Monday, March 4, 2019

Due process not violated in Amtrak cash seizure

What does due process mean anyway? That phrase is enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment, which says the government cannot deprive someone of liberty or property with due process. On other words, the Fourteenth Amendment gives you a fair chance to defend yourself against arbitrary governmental decision making, which does not necessarily mean you get a full evidentiary hearing before the government carries out the deprivation. It does not even mean you get a chance to defend yourself before the government commits the deprivation, so long as you have a post-deprivation chance to defend yourself and correct the injustice.

The case is Chunn v. Amtrak, issued on February 21. While plaintiff was sleeping in the Amtrak waiting area at Penn Station, an Amtrak officer roused him awake, starting a confrontation that got plaintiff arrested. The police also found over $10,000 in cash on plaintiff, which prompted a call to the DEA, which seized the money for possible forfeiture as proceeds of drug sales. No one gave plaintiff a chance to contest the seizure of his money, but the rules allow him a chance to contest the seizure after-the-fact. Is this due process? This is due process.

The Eighth Circuit had a case like this more than 20 years ago, Madewell v. Downs, 68 F.3d 1030 (8th Cir. 1995), which said seizures like this do not violate due process since the plaintiff can deal with the seizure afterwards under certain procedural rules, 21 U.S.C. 881 and 18 U.S.C. 981. Madewell is now the law in this Circuit, as well.

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