Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

STATUTORY INTERPRETATION-Due Process No Match for Civil Asset Forfeiture When Playing Hide and Seek with Fugitives

Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

STATUTORY INTERPRETATION-Due Process No Match for Civil Asset Forfeiture When Playing Hide and Seek with Fugitives

Article excerpt

STATUTORY INTERPRETATION--Due Process No Match for Civil Asset Forfeiture when Playing Hide and Seek with Fugitives--United States v. Batato, 833 F.3d 413 (4th Cir. 2016).

In the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Due Process Clause protects defendants by ensuring that they are not "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." (1) The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA), traditionally known as the Fugitive Disentitlement Doctrine, may conflict with the Due Process Clause because its main function is to deprive defendants, who flee from criminal prosecution, of their property and from defending their rights to that property. (2) In United States v. Batato, (3) the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided whether using CAFRA to disentitle the defendants from claiming their property in other countries violated their Fifth Amendment Due Process rights. (4) The Fourth Circuit held that CAFRA did not violate the defendants' Due Process rights by prohibiting them from using the United States' courts to defend their property claims when they refused to submit themselves to criminal prosecution in the United States. (5)

In September 2005, Finn Batato and his co-defendants created a website scheme that they called "Mega Conspiracy." (6)

The scheme consisted of controlling many public websites that reproduced and supplied "copies of copyrighted motion pictures, computer software, television programs, and musical recordings." (7) The defendants profited from this scheme by infringing on the copyrighted material and then laundering the money for themselves. (8) The defendants were successful in this scheme until January 5, 2012, when they were indicted for conspiracy to commit racketeering, criminal copyright infringement, aiding and abetting of copyright infringement, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. (9) After the defendants were indicted, the government discovered that the defendants had been hiding the money in New Zealand and Hong Kong, which caused the government to send restraining orders to stop the withdrawal of those assets. (10) Additionally, on January 20, 2012, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade complied with requests from the United States to arrest the defendants in order to have them extradited, but following the arrests, the defendants were released on bail. (11)

Both Hong Kong and New Zealand approved the United States' restraining orders on the defendants' assets, but New Zealand's orders were set to expire on April 18, 2014. (12) The New Zealand Court of Appeals was allowed to extend the orders for one more year, making April 18, 2015, the new expiration date; however, under New Zealand domestic law, the orders could not be extended again. (13) Due to the impending expiration date, the United States had no other alternate recourse except to file a civil forfeiture action against the defendants, which it did with a verified complaint on July 29, 2014. (14) In response, on August 28, 2014, the defendants filed a claim to the assets in dispute and on October 10, 2014, they also filed a motion to dismiss or stay the action. (15) The government moved, on November 18, 2014, to strike the asset claims of the defendants, which the district court granted on March 13, 2015. (16) The government then asked for a default judgment on March 25, 2015, which it was awarded in the form of forfeiture orders, and the defendants filed for an appeal. (17)

The U.S. Constitution gives federal courts certain inherent powers including the power to sanction and punish certain individuals who do not respect the power and authority of the court system. (18) The power to sanction and punish these individuals arises from the belief that the federal appellate courts have a responsibility to "set reasonable procedural rules in its management of litigation." (19) While the Constitution authorizes the federal courts with these powers, it also limits them by using the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, which guarantees a fair and just court hearing before "[depriving] [a defendant] of life, liberty or property. …

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