Forfeitures and Other Civil Cases
Attorney David M. Dudley's practice principally involves the defense of criminal cases. But, to a limited extent, he does handle certain civil matters, particularly those involving governmental forfeitures or allegations of arguably criminal conduct or civil rights violations such as police misconduct.
In civil forfeitures matters, Mr. Dudley has successfully recovered millions of dollars in cash and assets for his clients, mainly in federal court, but in state courts as well. In civil matters involving criminal allegations, he has defeated large corporations such as Phillip Morris while charging his clients a fraction of the fees generated by the large corporate law firms who specialize in representing big business.
For individuals in need of a lawyer for a personal injury case, commercial litigation, administrative proceedings, family law issues, or other matters involving potential lawsuits, Mr. Dudley associates with other lawyers who handle such matters. Each of those lawyers is a skilled litigator with extensive experience in his or her area of expertise.
Types of Forfeiture Cases
There are two types of forfeiture cases, civil and criminal. Criminal forfeiture allows the government to take a criminal's property if he or she has been convicted through a trial that found him or her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is considered a further punishment for the offender. In civil forfeiture cases the government can gain possession of a person's property without any determination of guilt. Civil forfeiture proceedings are managed by a much more relaxed standard of proof.
The government can choose which route to take, and since civil is much easier to prove, it is now the majority of forfeiture cases. The only thing that must be proven through clear and convincing evidence is that the property in question has a connection with any alleged criminal activity. It's up to the owner to establish that the property is not connected to criminal activity, through a preponderance of evidence.
Civil forfeiture laws are becoming more potent and are being used more frequently, but there are numerous defenses that can be used to prevent them. The Supreme Court has extended all of the search and seizure rights of the Fourth Amendment and the due process rights of the Fifth Amendment to civil forfeiture defendants. The Eighth Amendment also contains protection against excessive fines and penalties.
To speak with Mr. Dudley about a civil forfeitures matter, contact our law office today.
Forfeitures and Civil Cases: Selected Case Results
- U.S. v. Ladera Circle Residence: Frustrated because they could not indict the claimant criminally, federal law-enforcement authorities seized his house. At a court trial, the federal judge assigned to the case DISMISSED the government's forfeiture complaint and ordered the house RETURNED to the defendant.
- U.S. v. Moreno Valley Residence: Federal authorities seized the claimant's residence and the district court granted the government's forfeiture complaint. Finding that the trial court had reached improper legal conclusions in issuing its forfeiture order, the federal court of appeals REVERSED the lower court's judgment.
- U.S. v. M.H.: As part of a massive indictment, the government sought to forfeit criminally the defendant's house, his rental properties, his nightclub, his other businesses, and his bank accounts. At trial, the jury DENIED the government's forfeiture allegations and directed the goverment to RETURN all such assets to the defendant.
- U.S. v. Isle Court Residence: Pursuant to a mult-state investigation, federal authorities in New Mexico filed a forfeiture complaint against two residences owned by the claimant. Pursuant to a resulting settlement, the parties split evenly the proceeds from their agreed-upon sale of those properties.
- U.S. v. Buick Grand National: A defendant in a major organized crime drug-trafficking case attempted to pay his attorney's fees, in part, by transferring a collector's car to him. Before the transfer was effected, federal agents seized the vehicle. Upon the defendant's motion for return of property, the district court, in a scathing opinion, accused the government of overreaching and ordered the vehicle RETURNED to the defendant for the purpose of paying his attorney.
- U.S. v. Rolls Royce Vehicle: The claimant was convicted of attempting to purchase over 100 kilograms of cocaine. Pursuant to the arrest which led to his conviction, federal law-enforcement agents seized his late model Rolls-Royce. Through negotiations with the government, Attorney Dudley was able to secure the RETURN of that vehicle to the claimant.
- Seizure of $240,000: In a reverse sting operation, federal agents arrested the defendant in possession of over $240,000 in United States currency when he attempted to purchase counterfeit Microsoft software. After months of negotiations, Attorney Dudley was able to convince the government to RETURN all the currency to the defendant.
- S. v. $140,000: When arrested for attempting to buy counterfeit Intel computer chips from undercover law-enforcement officers, the claimant was in possession of over $140,000 in cash. Although Attorney Dudley was able, after several years, to obtain a judicial DISMISSAL of the criminal case against his client, Arizona state authorities still pursued the civil forfeiture of that currency. Under a settlement agreement negotiated by Mr. Dudley, those authorities agreed to RETURN the majority of the seized monies to the claimant.
- U.S. v. Yukon Truck: As part of a major drug investigation, a federal task force seized a vehicle and several items of jewelry from the claimant, with a total value of over $100,000. Negotiations led to successful RETURN of most of those assets.
- U.S. v. $220,000: Federal agents were monitoring an expected cocaine transaction involving multiple kilograms of cocaine in furtherance of a multi-state narcotics investigation. The claimant was arrested at the scene of the expected transaction with over $220,000 in cash, but no controlled substances were found. The claimant was released; however, the government attempted to forfeit all of his money. While the forfeiture complaint was being litigated in federal court, Attorney Dudley worked our a settlement agreement through which the government agreed to RETURN the majority of the seized currency to his client.
- Seizure of $6,000: When arrested for recruiting others to purchase assault rifles illegally in the United States and transferring those rifles to Mexican drug cartels, the claimant had more than $6,000 in cash on his person. Attorney Dudley was able to effect the RETURN of all that money to the claimant.
- S. v. $100,000: The claimant was an African-American man who was driving through Louisiana with California license plates on his car. For those reasons, Louisiana state troopers pulled over his vehicle, detained him, and searched the car. Inside, they found over $100,000 in cash. Local authorities seized the currency and moved for its forfeiture. In a small parish courthouse, Attorney Dudley later negotiated a deal whereby half of the money was RETURNED to his client.
- U.S. v. J.G.: Before arresting the defendant, law-enforcement officers seized furniture and other assets belonging to him. The federal government initially intended to forfeit all of those assets. Pursuant to a resolution of federal cocaine possession charges against the defendant, the defense was able to obtain the RETURN of all of the defendant's property.
- U.S. v. T.C.: Over several years of investigating the defendant's alleged leadership of a marijuana cultivation operation, law-enforcement officers seized several guns from his residences. The government eventually charged the defendant with possessing those weapons in furtherance of a marijuana cultivation and distribution conspiracy. Attorney Dudley was able to obtain a dismissal of the firearms charges as part of a settlement agreement. As a result of that dismissal, the defense was able to obtain a court order mandating the RETURN of all of those guns to the defendant.
- First National Bank v. N.M.: The federal government and several banks investigated the defendant for widespread real estate fraud. Though the government was unable to bring criminal charges against the defendant, a major bank sued him for fraud. Aggressively defending his client in the civil matter, Attorney Dudley was able to negotiate a settlement under which his client only had to pay about twenty percent of the loss to the bank that his conduct allegedly created.
- Phillip Morris Corp. v. S.W.: After the defendant received an extemely favorable plea bargain and sentence for importing millions of dollars of counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes into the United States from China, the Phillip Morris corporation sued him for trademark infringement. Represented by Heller Ehrman, at the time one of the top corporate law firms in the country, the plaintiff cited dozens of cases which supposedly mandated a court award of $4,000,000 against the defendant for his admitted violations of the law. Attorney Dudley convinced the court, that due to its own immoral conduct, Phillip Morris should only receive an award of $40,000, far less than it had obtained against any other counterfeit cigarette defendant in the past. Because it had received some award, however minimal, Phillip Morris was statutorily entitled to "reasonable attorney's fees". Therefore, Heller Ehrman presented the court for a bill of almost $200,000 for a civil prosecution in which liability was never an issue. Attorney Dudley, who received less than ten percent of that amount for his successful defense of his client, objected to that amount. Shortly thereafter, the district court issued its order: "The Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees is denied."