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Forfeiture of money to FBI allowed

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A man whose $12,000 was seized following an arrest after a traffic stop wasn't entitled to get his money back from the FBI because the organization properly followed the rules, and even went above typical forfeiture proceedings in an attempt to inform the man of the seized money.

In James E. Turner v. Attorney General of the United States of America, 4:05-CV-0081-PRC, James Turner pro se filed a motion in 2005 in an attempt to get back the seized funds. The money was confiscated from the driver of a car Turner was a passenger in, and the driver told police the $12,000 was Turner's money. The Newton County Prosecutor filed a motion to transfer the seized property to the FBI under forfeiture proceedings per 21 U.S.C. Section 881. Turner posted bond after the arrest, and a warrant was issued for his arrest for failure to appear. He was later taken into federal custody for several drug trafficking offenses unrelated to his arrest in Newton County.

In Turner's complaint, he alleges no formal notice of the forfeiture was filed or presented to him and that the FBI should have known he was in federal custody at the time the organization mailed notices to him of the administrative forfeiture proceedings.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, dismissed the case, holding Turner was estopped from asserting the claim because the statute of limitations had expired. The 7th Circuit vacated the dismissal and remanded the case.

Magistrate Judge Paul R. Cherry granted the FBI's motion to dismiss Turner's complaint Sept. 29, finding the FBI took reasonable steps and met the constitutional standard of due process in Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust, Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314 (1950), to provide Turner with notice.

The FBI sent written notice to Turner regarding his opportunity to object to the forfeiture proceedings by certified mail to two different residential addresses but both notices were returned. The FBI also sent a copy of the notice to the attorney who represented Turner in the Newton County misdemeanor case, but the attorney replied that he didn't represent Turner. The FBI published notice of its intention to claim the property in The New York Times for three consecutive weeks.

Those actions were enough to meet the constitutional standards; however, in this case, the FBI went above those actions by searching the National Crime Information Center database, which didn't show Turner was in federal custody at the time of the search. The database only showed his failure to appear in Newton County. There was always the possibility that an arresting agency failed to report or delayed reporting the arrest in the NCIC, which happened in this case.

This case is notable because the FBI was unaware he was in federal custody and took additional efforts to locate Turner in order to provide him notice when it learned its first efforts to notify him failed, wrote the magistrate judge.

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