United States v. Parcel of Rumson, N. J., Land

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Parcel of Rumson, N. J., Land
LOCATION: Safeway grocery store

DOCKET NO.: 91-781
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 507 US 111 (1993)
ARGUED: Oct 13, 1992
DECIDED: Feb 24, 1993

ADVOCATES:
Amy L. Wax - on behalf of the Petitioner
James A. Plaisted - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States v. Parcel of Rumson, N. J., Land

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 13, 1992 in United States v. Parcel of Rumson, N. J., Land

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 24, 1993 in United States v. Parcel of Rumson, N. J., Land

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 91-781, United States versus A Parcel of Land will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

In 1978, the Congress amended the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act to provide for the forfeiture of proceeds, traceable to money or other things of value earned from drug trafficking.

This case raises questions concerning the innocent owner in defense that is included in that amendment.

One of the defense is available through donee as well as a bona fide purchaser.

And whether, as the government contends, it may only be asserted by a person who own the property before the conduct justifying the forfeiture occurred.

In 1982, the respondent received a gift of approximately $240,000 dollars that she used to purchase the home that she and her three children have occupied ever since.

In 1989, based on probable cause to believe that the funds used to buy the house were proceeds of illegal drug transactions.

The government instituted this forfeiture proceeding.

In defense respondents claimed to be an innocent owner, because she had no knowledge of the origin of the money.

Without passing on the credibility of her claim, the District Court held that her defense was insufficient as a matter of law, because she had received the purchase price as a gift, and because she had not acquired the property until after the alleged drug transactions occurred.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing, and we granted the government's petition for certiorary.

The government does not press the argument that the defense is only available to bona fide purchasers.

Persumably, because the plain language of the statute contains no such limitation.

The government does however argued that it becomes the owner of drug proceeds as soon as an illegal transaction takes place, and that respondent's home was therefore purchased with the government property.

We reject that argument because both the common law and the statutory relation back doctrine, on which the government relies, only provide for a retroactive vesting of title after the government has obtained the forfeiture judgment.

Until that time, the government is not the owner of the property, and the person such as respondent, who does own the property until then, may involve to any defense otherwise available to her.

My opinion announcing the judgment of Court is joined by Justice Blackmun, Justice O'Connor and Justice Souter.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment that is joined by Justice Thomasa and Justice Kennedy has filed a dissenting opinion that is joined by the Chief Justice and Justice White.