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Name: U.S. v. $186,416
Case #: 07-56549
Opinion Date: 10/20/2009
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Citation: 583 Fed.3d 1220
Summary

Currency unlawfully seized by a state law enforcement agency may be subject to federal forfeiture if the government can demonstrate probable cause for the seizure based upon untainted evidence. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) served a search warrant on United Medical Caregivers Clinic (UMCC), a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary, and, among other items, seized marijuana and $186,416. No criminal charges were filed and the UMCC filed a motion for return of the seized items. Attached to the motion was a declaration of UMCC’s executive officer acknowledging the connection between UMCC’s activities and the currency. Rather than ruling on the motion, the state court ordered the currency released from state court jurisdiction to allow the initiation of federal forfeiture proceedings. The federal government alleged that the currency was seized from UMCC and was traceable to federal narcotics violations. UMCC then filed a motion to suppress evidence in the district court. The district court granted the motion, initially finding that the LAPD had omitted relevant facts from its warrant request. (It later reconsidered and based its holding on the government’s failure to comply with a procedural requirement in a relevant federal statute.) However, it denied UMCC’s request for summary judgment in the civil forfeiture action, finding that the government had sufficient evidence, independent of the unlawful search, to initiate the forfeiture action. The government had relied on the declaration attached to the motion for return of seized items to justify the motion. The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of the summary judgment motion. It ruled that the exclusionary rule does apply to civil forfeiture proceedings. In this case, because the declaration was the result of the flawed search warrant, it was fruit of the poisonous tree and could not be relied on. Without the declaration, there was no independent evidence to support the forfeiture action and the court ordered judgment, with return of the currency, for UMCC.