No Instructions Required: Due Process and Post-Deprivation Remedies for Property Seized in Criminal Investigations

By Prendergast, Nyika | Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

No Instructions Required: Due Process and Post-Deprivation Remedies for Property Seized in Criminal Investigations


Prendergast, Nyika, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology


City of West Covina v. Perkins, 119 S. Ct. 678 (1999)

I. INTRODUCTION

In City of West Covina v. Perkins,(1) the Supreme Court considered whether the Due Process Clause(2) of the Fourteenth Amendment requires state or local law enforcement officers to notify property owners of the state law remedies available for recovering property lawfully seized in criminal investigations.(3) The Court ruled that the Due Process Clause does not require officers to give property owners notice of the state law remedies available to retrieve the seized property.(4)

To arrive at this holding, Justice Kennedy, writing for a seven-person majority, relied heavily on the fact that state law remedies are well

established by published and widely available statutes and case law.(5) The Court also noted the lack of support for such a notice requirement in Supreme Court precedent and federal and state criminal laws.(6)

This Note begins by examining the development of the concept of "notice" as it pertains to the Due Process Clause. This Note argues that Perkins correctly rejected the Ninth Circuit's expansive notice requirement because it is unwarranted and unsupported by precedent. The Court properly concluded that law enforcement officers have no obligation under the Due Process Clause to notify property owners of the procedures for recovering their seized property. This Note further argues that the Court's decision will not have a detrimental impact on future judicial decisions regarding deprivation of property. Finally, this Note argues that the majority was erroneous in its assertion, in dicta, that due process requires officers to give notice that property has been seized pursuant to a search warrant. This suggestion by the Court constitutes an unwarranted expansion of due process principles into an area historically governed by the Fourth Amendment.

II. BACKGROUND

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from depriving "any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."(7) The concept of "Due Process" encompasses rights not only to judicial procedures and judicial remedies, but also to administrative procedures and to judicial review of administrative decisions.(8) The Supreme Court recognizes rights to both procedural and substantive due process.(9)

A. PROCEDURAL DUE PROCESS

Procedural due process is based on the theory that the protection against deprivation of life, liberty, and property is not absolute, and that such deprivation is permissible when accompanied by procedural steps that ensure fairness.(10) To satisfy the requirements of procedural due process, the state must provide the injured party with notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard prior to depriving that party of life, liberty, or property.(11) In situations where pre-deprivation notice is impractical or impossible, such as a search warrant or the necessity of quick action by the state, the Supreme Court has found that the existence of post-deprivation remedies satisfies due process requirements.(12)

There is no bright-line rule that governs the question of the particular procedural protection that due process requires.(13) The Supreme Court established a three-part balancing test in Matthews v. Eldridge(14) to determine entitlement to particular procedural safeguards(15). Under Matthews, a court must consider: (1) the private interest affected by the official action; (2) the risk of erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and (3) the government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.(16)

B. DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONCEPT OF NOTICE WITHIN THE PROCEDURAL COMPONENT OF THE DUE PROCESS CLAUSE

The concept of notice is a fundamental element of the right to procedural due process. …

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