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U.S. Supreme Court

Caplin & Drysdale v. United States, 491 U.S. 617 (1989)

Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered v. United States

No. 87-1729

Argued March 21, 1989

Decided June 22, 1989

491 U.S. 617


Christopher Reckmeyer was charged with running a massive drug importation and distribution scheme alleged to be a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE) in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848. Relying on a portion of the CCE statute that authorizes forfeiture to the Government of property acquired as a result of drug law violations, § 853, the indictment sought forfeiture of specified assets in Reckmeyer's possession. The District Court, acting pursuant to § 853(e)(1)(A), entered a restraining order forbidding Reckmeyer from transferring any of the potentially forfeitable assets. Nonetheless, he transferred $25,000 to petitioner, a law firm, for preindictment legal services. Petitioner continued to represent Reckmeyer after his indictment. Reckmeyer moved to modify the District Court's order to permit him to use some of the restrained assets to pay petitioner's fees and to exempt such assets from postconviction forfeiture. However, before the court ruled on his motion, Reckmeyer entered a plea agreement with the Government in which, inter alia, he agreed to forfeit all of the specified assets. The court then denied Reckmeyer's motion and, subsequently, entered an order forfeiting virtually all of his assets to the Government. Petitioner -- arguing that assets used to pay an attorney are exempt from forfeiture under § 853 and, if they are not, that the statute's failure to provide such an exemption renders it unconstitutional -- filed a petition under § 853(n) seeking an adjudication of its third-party interest in the forfeited assets. The District Court granted the relief sought. However, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the statute acknowledged no exception to its forfeiture requirement, and that the statutory scheme is constitutional.


1. For the reasons stated in United States v. Monsanto, ante, at 491 U. S. 611-614, whatever discretion § 853(e) does provide district court judges to refuse to issue pretrial restraining orders on potentially forfeitable assets, it does not grant them equitable discretion to allow a defendant to withhold assets to pay bona fide attorney's fees. Nor does the exercise of judges' § 853(e) discretion "immunize" nonrestrained assets used for attorney's fees from subsequent forfeiture under § 853(c), which provides for recapture of forfeitable assets transferred to third parties. Pp. 491 U. S. 622-623.

Page 491 U. S. 618

2. The forfeiture statute does not impermissibly burden a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to retain counsel of his choice. A defendant has no Sixth Amendment right to spend another person's money for services rendered by an attorney, even if those funds are the only way that that defendant will be able to retain the attorney of his choice. Such money, though in his possession, is not rightfully his. Petitioner's contention that, since the Government's claim to forfeitable assets rests on a penal statute that is merely a mechanism for preventing fraudulent conveyances of the assets, and is not a device for determining true title to property, the burden the statute places on a defendant's rights greatly outweighs the Government's interest in forfeiture is unsound. Section 853(c) reflects the application of the long-recognized and lawful practice of vesting title to any forfeitable assets in the hands of the Government at the time of the criminal act giving rise to forfeiture. Moreover, there is a strong governmental interest in obtaining full recovery of the assets, since the assets are deposited in a fund that supports law enforcement efforts, since the statute allows property to be recovered by its rightful owners, and since a major purpose behind forfeiture provisions such as the CCE's is to lessen the economic power of organized crime and drug enterprises, including the use of such power to retain private counsel. Pp. 491 U. S. 624-633.

3. The forfeiture statute does not upset the balance of power between the Government and the accused in a manner contrary to the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Constitution does not forbid the imposition of an otherwise permissible criminal sanction, such as forfeiture, merely because, in some cases, prosecutors may abuse the processes available to them. Such due process claims are cognizable only in specific cases of prosecutorial misconduct, which has not been alleged here. Pp. 491 U. S. 633-635.

837 F.2d 637, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 491 U. S. 635.

Page 491 U. S. 619

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