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United States v. Approximately $9

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 19, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
APPROXIMATELY $9, 815.00 IN U.S. CURRENCY, Defendant.

FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS THAT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT AND FINAL JUDGMENT OF FORFEITURE BE GRANTED (Doc. 10)

SHEILA K. OBERTO, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On May 22, 2013, Plaintiff United States of America (the "Government" or "Plaintiff") filed a motion for default judgment and for final judgment of forfeiture in this in rem forfeiture action. (Doc. 10.) No opposition to the Government's application has been filed, and the time to file an opposition has expired. The Court has reviewed the motion and supporting documentation and finds this matter suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g); thus, the June 19, 2013, hearing is VACATED. For the reasons set forth below, the Court RECOMMENDS that Plaintiff's application for default judgment and for final judgment of forfeiture be GRANTED.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's complaint, filed on January 30, 2013, alleges that on August 20, 2012, a Sherriff's Deputy (the "Deputy") activated the overhead lights on the patrol car to initiate a traffic stop of a silver Jaguar sedan traveling east on Ashlan Avenue in Fresno, California, after observing the vehicle was occupied by David Medina ("Medina"), who had active warrants for his arrest. (Doc. 1, ¶ 6.) Medina turned onto Sunnyside Avenue and the Deputy noticed Medina reach towards the passenger side floor board. (Doc. 1, ¶ 7.) Medina then turned west and pulled over the car. (Doc. 1, ¶ 7.) The Deputy approached the driver's side and ordered Medina out of the car, explaining he needed to check on Medina's outstanding warrants. (Doc. 1, ¶ 8.) At that time, the Deputy noticed a strong scent of marijuana coming from inside the vehicle, and observed two different license plates on the vehicle. (Doc. 1, ¶ 8.) Through a records check, the Deputy confirmed that Medina had three active warrants for his arrest and arrested him without incident. (Doc. 1, ¶ 8.)

Once Medina was placed under arrest, the Deputy asked him why he had been moving so much at the time of the traffic stop; Medina replied angrily that he did not know what the Deputy was talking about. (Doc. 1, ¶ 9.) The Deputy then asked Medina if he had any drugs or weapons in his possession. (Doc. 1, ¶ 9.) Medina responded, "You're going to find out anyway." (Doc. 1, ¶ 9.) The Deputy began to search Medina and found a zip lock bag containing a substance later identified as marijuana. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10.) In the same pocket, the Deputy found approximately $9, 815.00 ("defendant currency") which was folded and wrapped with a rubber band. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10.) The Deputy asked Medina how much money was in the bundle; Medina estimated it contained $10, 000 to $11, 000. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10.) The Deputy then asked Medina the source of the money and about Medina's employment; Medina told the Deputy he had the money "because he was Indian" and that he was unemployed. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10.)[1]

When the Deputy questioned whether there were any drugs under the hood of his vehicle, Medina replied, "You're gonna look anyway." (Doc. 1, ¶ 11.) The Deputy had Medina's car towed to a more secure location and conducted a search of the vehicle which led to the discovery of a half-burned marijuana cigarette between the driver's seat and the center console. (Doc. 1, ¶ 12.) Under the center console, the Deputy found an ice pick, which was stored in a manner that concealed the sharp point of the weapon while allowing for easy access to the handle portion from the driver's seat of the vehicle. (Doc. 1, ¶ 12.) Under the hood of the vehicle, the Deputy discovered a black coin purse that contained three plastic bags. (Doc. 1, ¶ 12.) Each bag contained a crystal-like substance which the Deputy recognized as crystal methamphetamine. (Doc. 1, ¶ 12.) The Deputy showed Medina the coin purse and estimated the amount of methamphetamine it contained; Medina responded it contained "less than an ounce." (Doc. 1, ¶ 13.) A Narcotics Identification Kit confirmed the contents were methamphetamine, and weighed approximately 19 grams. (Doc. 1, ¶ 14.)

On January 30, 2013, Medina was charged in Fresno County Superior Court, case number F12905801, for violations of California Health & Safety Code Sections 11378 - Possession of a Controlled Substance for Sale, 11379(A) - Transport of a Controlled Substance, and other related charges. (Doc. 1, ¶ 16.)

III. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 30, 2013, the Government filed a civil action for forfeiture in rem of the defendant, approximately $9, 815.00 in currency, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). (Doc. 1). On February 22, 2013, the Court issued a Warrant for Arrest of Articles In Rem for the defendant currency. (Docs. 3, 4.)

On February 25, 2013, copies of the Complaint, Application and Order For Publication, Order Re Issuance of Clerk's Arrest Warrant, Warrant for Arrest of Articles In Rem, Order Setting Mandatory Scheduling Conference, Standing Order in All Civil Cases Assigned to District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill, Notice of Availability of Magistrate Judge, Notice of Availability of Voluntary Dispute Resolution, and notice-of-forfeiture letter dated February 25, 2013, ("the case documents") were sent via first class mail and certified mail to Medina's last known address, 1428 N. 8th Street in Fresno, California, XXXXX-XXXX. (Doc. 7-1, Magee Decl., ¶ 6.) On the same day, copies of the case documents were sent via first class mail and certified mail to Daniel K. Martin, Esq., who had filed a claim on behalf of David Medina in the administrative forfeiture action. (Doc. 7-1, Magee Decl., ¶ 6.)

On February 27, 2013, Notice of Civil Forfeiture was posted via the official internet government forfeiture site (www.forfeiture.gov) for 30 consecutive days. (Doc. 5.)

On March 19, 2013, the United States Attorney's Office received the returned certified mail that was sent to Medina's last known address; it was marked unsigned and "Unclaimed." (Doc. 7-1, Magee Decl., ¶ 6.)

Medina failed to file a claim, answer, plead, or otherwise defend the action within the time allowed by law. Accordingly, on April 19, 2013, the Government filed a motion for default judgment against Medina, seeking the entry of a Final Judgment of Forfeiture vesting all right, ...


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