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United States v. Approximately $179

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


July 28, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
APPROXIMATELY $179,298.00 IN U.S. CURRENCY, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER RE CLAIMANT'S MOTION TO STAY CIVIL FORFEITURE PROCEEDINGS

(Docs. 11-12)

On June 26, 2009, Claimant CLARENCE PICKENS filed a Motion to Stay Civil Forfeiture Proceedings pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code section 981(g)(2). Plaintiff did not oppose the motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On September 26, 2008, law enforcement officials conducted a search of Claimant's Modesto home after receiving information from citizens in the neighborhood that marijuana was being grown in the backyard. (Doc. 1 at 2.) A number of marijuana plants were located in the backyard of the home located on Dyer Lane. (Doc. 1 at 3.) In the home's interior, a canine alerted to a suitcase containing approximately $64,800.00 in an envelope and $40,000.00 in a wooden vase. (Doc. 1 at 3.) In the master bedroom, a large amount of currency was found bundled on a dresser in the bedroom, and $3,700.00 was found in a purse. After his arrest, Claimant stated the $18,000.00 in a safe was the result of his having won a poker tournament at the Nugget Casino in Reno. (Doc. 1 at 4.) In sum, the search of the residence yielded twelve mature marijuana plants and more than $179,000.00 in United States currency.*fn1

Claimant was charged with cultivation of marijuana and possession of a controlled substance for sale. A criminal case is now pending against Claimant in the Stanislaus County Superior Court, case number 1252733. (Doc. 12 at 2.)

On April 9, 2009, Plaintiff United States of America filed a Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem with this Court. More specifically, the complaint seeks forfeit to the government the sum of approximately $179.298.00. (Doc. 1.) A Warrant for Arrest of Articles In Rem issued on April 29, 2009. (Doc. 5.) On June 8, 2009, a Claim Opposing Forfeiture was filed on behalf of Clarence Pickens. (Doc. 6.)

On June 26, 2009, Claimant filed the instant Motion to Stay Civil Forfeiture Proceedings. (Docs. 11 & 12.) In a minute order dated July 15, 2009, this Court ordered that any opposition to the instant motion must be filed no later than July 22, 2009. (Doc. 17.) No opposition has been filed to date.

DISCUSSION

Claimant asserts that the instant forfeiture proceedings are related to the now pending criminal matter in the Stanislaus County Superior Court, and that were the instant matter to proceed, it would burden his right against self-incrimination.

A civil forfeiture proceeding is an action in rem. See Republic Nat'l Bank of Miami v. United States, 506 U.S. 80, 84, 113 S.Ct. 554, 121 L.Ed.2d 474 (1992); United States v. Approximately $1.67 Million, 513 F.3d 991, 996 (9th Cir.2008). In rem jurisdiction is obtained "'by arrest under process of the court.'" United States v. 2,164 Watches, More or Less, Bearing a Registered Trademark of Guess?, Inc., 366 F.3d 767, 771 (9th Cir.2004) (quoting Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. The Vessel Bay Ridge, 703 F.2d 381, 384 (9th Cir.1983)).

Title 18 of the United States Codes section 981(g)(2) provides as follows:

(2) Upon the motion of a claimant, the court shall stay the civil forfeiture proceeding with respect to that claimant if the court determines that--(A) the claimant is the subject of a related criminal investigation or case;

(B) the claimant has standing to assert a claim in the civil forfeiture proceeding; and

(C) continuation of the forfeiture proceeding will burden the right of the claimant against self-incrimination in the related investigation or case.

Here, Claimant is the subject of a related criminal matter now pending before the Stanislaus County Superior Court, entitled People v. Clarence O. Pickens, case number 1252733.*fn2 Claimant has standing to assert a claim in this proceeding, and in fact filed a claim with this Court on June 8, 2009, wherein he asserts the $179,298.00 seized is his property and was lawfully obtained. (Doc. 6.) Claimant has moved for a stay of the proceedings, claiming "continuation of the immediate forfeiture proceeding against him will burden the right of this Claimant . . . against self-incrimination in this related criminal case." (Doc. 12 at 3.)

Finally, no opposition to the motion has been filed by the Plaintiff. (See USDC-E docket.)

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, this Court hereby GRANTS Claimant's Motion to Stay Civil Forfeiture Proceedings pending the outcome of the criminal matter now pending before the Stanislaus County Superior Court.

The parties shall file a status report with this Court every 180 days, commencing from the date this Order was executed, through and until the date upon which the criminal proceedings now pending in the Stanislaus County Superior Court have concluded.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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