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United States v. Levesque

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant was arrested and pled guilty to conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. The government sought a forfeiture award in a money judgment in the amount of $3,068,000.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The lower court must consider whether a forfeiture will deprive a defendant of his or her livelihood.

    Facts.

    Defendant, Levesque, was stopped by a Maine State police officer for speeding on the highway. Defendant’s vehicle has been under surveillance by federal agents because the Immigration and Customs Enforcement received information that he was involved in a large marijuana operation. When the officer ran Defendant’s license and registration, another officer arrived with a K-9 dog, who alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. The officer asked if there was anything Defendant wanted to tell the officer, and Defendant told the officer “it is in the back.†The officer found ninety-four pounds of marijuana in three duffel bags. Subsequently, Defendant was arrested and admitted that she had made marijuana distributions about two to three times per week since February 2006 and to details of the distribution. The government moved for a preliminary order of forfeiture, requesting a money judgment in the amount of $3,068,000 from the court. The district court awarded the forfeiture to the government.

    Issue.

    Whether the lower court properly awarded the government forfeiture of the monetary judgment.

    Held.

    No, the lower court erred in awarding the government the monetary judgment because the lower court did not consider whether the forfeiture will deprive the defendant of his or her livelihood.

    Discussion.

    The government based their forfeiture request on Defendant’s admissions and the amount of marijuana Defendant had when she was arrested. Nevertheless, the Defendant asserts that the monetary amount does not take into account her personal expenses, and “she ha[d] nothing of value left to forfeit.†A forfeiture is constitutional if it is not grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the defendant’s offense. The three main factors the court must consider are “(1) whether the defendant falls into the class of persons at whom the criminal statute was principally directed; (2) other penalties authorized by the legislature (or the Sentencing Commission); and (3) the harm caused by the defendant.†However, although it is not an explicit factor the court must also evaluate whether the forfeiture will deprive the defendant of his or her livelihood. Here, the defendant’s inability to satisfy the forfeiture at the time of the conviction alone does not render the forfeiture unconstitutional because the defendant may, at a later time, have sufficient funds to cover the forfeiture. Therefore, the case is remanded to the lower court to analyze the inexplicit factor that the court must consider.



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