UNITED STATES V. ,850 IN CURRENCY, 461 U. S. 555 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. $8,850 in Currency, 461 U.S. 555 (1983)

United States v. $8,850 in Currency

No. 81-1062

Argued January 18, 1983

Decided May 23, 1983

461 U.S. 555


The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, 31 U.S.C. § 1101, requires persons knowingly transporting monetary instruments exceeding $5,000 into the United States to file a report with the Customs Service declaring the amount transported. The Government is authorized under 31 U.S.C. § 1102(a) to seize and forfeit any monetary instruments for which the required report was not filed. On September 10, 1975, claimant Vasquez, upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport from Canada, declared that she was not carrying more than $5,000 in currency, but a customs inspector discovered and seized from her $8,850 in United States currency. On September 18, 1975, the Customs Service informed Vasquez by letter that the seized currency was subject to forfeiture and that she had a right to petition for remission or mitigation. A week later, she filed such a petition. Thereafter, from October, 1975, to April, 1976, the Customs Service, suspecting Vasquez of narcotics violations, conducted an investigation of the petition, but concluded, after contacting federal, state, and Canadian law enforcement officials, that there was no evidence of any violations. Vasquez, however, was indicted in June, 1976, for, and convicted in December, 1976, of, knowingly and willfully making false statements to a customs officer. In March, 1977, a complaint seeking forfeiture of the currency under 31 U.S.C. § 1102(a) was filed in Federal District Court. Vasquez claimed that the 18-month delay between the seizure of the currency and the filing of the forfeiture action violated her right to due process, but the District Court held that the time that had elapsed was reasonable under the circumstances and declared the currency forfeited. The Court of Appeals reversed and ordered dismissal of the forfeiture action.

Held: On the facts, the Government's 18-month delay in filing a civil proceeding for forfeiture of the currency did not violate the claimant's right to due process of law. Pp. 461 U. S. 562-570.

(a) The balancing test of Barker v. Wingo, 407 U. S. 514, developed to determine when Government delay has abridged the right to a speedy trial, provides the relevant framework for determining whether the

Page 461 U. S. 556

delay in filing a forfeiture action was reasonable. That test involves a weighing of four factors: length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant. Pp. 461 U. S. 562-565.

(b) In this case, the balance of factors under the Barker test indicates that the Government's delay in instituting civil forfeiture proceedings was reasonable. Although the 18-month delay was a substantial period of time, it was justified where there is no evidence that the Government's investigation of the petition for remission or mitigation was not pursued with diligence or that the Government was responsible for the slow pace of the criminal proceedings. Nor is there any evidence that Vasquez desired early commencement of a civil forfeiture proceeding, she never having used the available remedies to seek return of the seized currency, and she has never alleged or shown that the delay prejudiced her ability to defend against the forfeiture. Pp. 461 U. S. 565-570.

645 F.2d 836, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 461 U. S. 570.

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