Austin v. United States, 509 U.S. 602 (1993)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eighth circuit

No. 92-6073. Argued April 20, 1993—Decided June 28, 1993

After a state court sentenced petitioner Austin on his guilty plea to one count of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of South Dakota law, the United States filed an in rem action in Federal District Court against his mobile home and auto body shop under 21 U. S. C. 881(a)(4) and (a)(7), which provide for the forfeiture of, respectively, vehicles and real property used, or intended to be used, to facilitate the commission of certain drug-related crimes. In granting the Government summary judgment on the basis of an officer's affidavit that Austin had brought two grams of cocaine from the mobile home to the body shop in order to consummate a prearranged sale there, the court rejected Austin's argument that forfeiture of his properties would violate the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause. The Court of Appeals affirmed, agreeing with the Government that the Eighth Amendment is inapplicable to in rem civil forfeitures.

Held: 1. Forfeiture under 881(a)(4) and (a)(7) is a monetary punishment and, as such, is subject to the limitations of the Excessive Fines Clause. Pp. 606-622. (a) The determinative question is not, as the Government would have it, whether forfeiture under 881(a)(4) and (a)(7) is civil or criminal. The Eighth Amendment's text is not expressly limited to criminal cases, and its history does not require such a limitation. Rather, the crucial question is whether the forfeiture is monetary punishment, with which the Excessive Fines Clause is particularly concerned. Because sanctions frequently serve more than one purpose, the fact that a forfeiture serves remedial goals will not exclude it from the Clause's purview, so long as it can only be explained as serving in part to punish. See United States v. Halper, 490 U. S. 435, 448. Thus, consideration must be given to whether, at the time the Eighth Amendment was ratified, forfeiture was understood at least in part as punishment and whether forfeiture under 881(a)(4) and (a)(7) should be so understood today. Pp. 606-611. (b) A review of English and American law before, at the time of, and following the ratification of the Eighth Amendment demonstrates that forfeiture generally, and statutory in rem forfeiture in particular,

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