Saturday, January 05, 2019

Case o' The Week: Hidden Dough a Ninth No-Go - Hernandez-Escobar and Due Process Rights in Forfeiture Proceedings


  Hiding money from a spouse? 


Avoid stashing it with a drug-dealing son.
  United States v. Hernandez-Escobar, 2018 WL 6693487 (9th Cir. Dec. 20, 2019), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Fisher, joined by Judges Berzon and Watford.

Facts: Roberto Hernandez (“Roberto”) pleaded guilty to drug charges. In his plea agreement, he agreed to forfeit $73,000 in cash that was found in his bedroom, alongside thirteen pounds of meth, guns, and pay-owe sheets. Id.
  After the plea, Roberto’s father (“Mr. Hernandez”) filed a claim on that money. Id. Mr. Hernandez claimed it was his cash. Mr. Hernandez explained that he had stored the dough in shoeboxes, and stashed it with his son to protect it from his wife during marital difficulties. Id. at *2.
  Before the forfeiture hearing, the AUSA met with Roberto. When Roberto (generally) confirmed his father’s story, the AUSA reminded Roberto of his plea agreement, said he thought Roberto was lying, and warned of potential false statement charges. Id. Not surprisingly, Roberto then asserted the Fifth at his father's forfeiture hearing. Id.
  The district court found that the cash was drug proceeds, denied Mr. Hernandez’s “bailor” argument, and forfeited the funds. Id.

Issue(s): “[Mr. Hernandez] argues that he is a bailor whose title to the cash is superior to the Government’s, and also that his due process rights were violated because his son did not testify at the hearing.” Id. at *1.

Held: “We affirm.” Id. “In Alcaraz-Garcia, we ruled that for the purpose of calculating the time to appeal, a criminal forfeiture proceeding is civil in nature . . . We need not determine whether this reasoning in Alcaraz-Garcia extends to due process questions, because even if Mr. Hernandez was entitled to due process protections coextensive with those afforded to criminal defendants, he has not shown a violation.” Id. at *6 (internal quotations and citation omitted).

Of Note: The main holding of Hernandez-Escobar is a predictable affirmance of the factual findings of the district court. A far more interesting question is the due process rights of a third party seeking funds slated for forfeiture.
  As noted above, Judge Fisher skirts that question by holding that Mr. Hernandez (the father) suffered no due process violation in any event – the son was not (we are told) coerced into not testifying. This due process question remains an intriguing issue for another day.

How to Use: What happens when a prosecutor bullies a central defense witness into silence, by threatening perjury charges? Judge Fisher delves into that problem, in the context of the – "admonitions" – this prosecutor gave to the defendant (the father’s key witness). Id. at *7.
  Judge Fisher warns that, “In other circumstances, a prosecutor’s stated belief that a potential witness is lying might be an unnecessarily strong admonition, but not on these facts.” Id. at *6 (internal quotations and citation omitted).
  This discussion in Herandez-Escobar is worth a close read when dealing with a “dissuading” AUSA: on slightly different facts, the prosecutor here might have well crossed the line.
                                           
The Hon. United States Attorney David Anderson
For Further Reading: Trump-nominee David Anderson is officially the new United States Attorney for the Northern District of California. On January 2, 2019, Mr. Anderson was confirmed by voice vote in the Senate. See Congressional site here. 
  The Honorable Anderson takes the corner office in the midst of a long government shutdown, as federal investigators work without pay, AUSAs ask for delays of civil cases, and the Judiciary contemplates contingencies just to pay juror fees. See NYT article here. 
  Welcome back to the Federal Building, Dave.



Image of money in shoebox from https://news.dailytoast.com/blogs/after-60-years-of-marriage-a-man-finds-95-000-in-a-shoe-box-in-his-wi.

Image of the Hon. U.S Attorney David Anderson from https://www.sidley.com/en/people/a/anderson-dave.


Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender N.D. Cal. Website available at www.ndcal.org 




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