United States v. Von Neumann,
474 U.S. 242 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Von Neumann, 474 U.S. 242 (1986)

United States v. Von Neumann

No. 84-1144

Argued November 4, 1985

Decided January 14, 1986

474 U.S. 242


Respondent purchased a car in Switzerland and had it shipped to Vancouver, Canada. After he had picked up the car in Vancouver, he drove to the United States border, but failed to declare the car when asked by a United States customs officer whether he had anything to declare. Customs then seized the car pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1497, which provides that any article not declared upon entry into the United States that by law must be declared is subject to forfeiture or to a penalty equaling the value of the article. Respondent, rather than waiting to challenge the seizure in a judicial forfeiture action that might be initiated by the Government, immediately chose the other statutory option of filing a petition for administrative remission of the forfeiture. Two weeks later, he posted a bond for $24,500, the car's value, and Customs released the car. The Customs Service did not respond to the remission petition until 36 days after it was filed, at which time the penalty for failure to declare the car was reduced to $3,600, and this penalty was upheld on administrative review. Respondent then filed a complaint in Federal District Court, seeking cancellation of the penalty on the ground that he had not violated § 1497, and a declaration that the seizure and penalty were unlawful. The District Court disagreed and entered judgment for the Government. The Court of Appeals held that the 36-day delay in acting on respondent's remission petition denied him due process of law in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Subsequently, on remand from this Court for reconsideration in light of United States v. $8,850, 461 U. S. 555, the Court of Appeals held that the four-factor balancing test of Barker v. Wino, 407 U. S. 514 -- the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice suffered by the defendant -- applied in $8,850 in determining whether a delay in bringing a forfeiture proceeding violated due process should also be applied to determine whether the 36-day delay in this case violated due process, and accordingly remanded to the District Court to determine that question under the above test.

Held: On the record, the 36-day delay did not deprive respondent of property without due process of law. Pp. 474 U. S. 249-251.

(a) Respondent's right to a forfeiture proceeding meeting the Barker test provides the postseizure hearing required by due process to protect respondent's property interest in the car. The remission statute simply

Page 474 U. S. 243

grants the Secretary of the Treasury the discretion not to pursue a complete forfeiture despite the Government's entitlement to one. Remission proceedings are not necessary to a forfeiture determination, and therefore are not constitutionally required. Thus, there is no constitutional basis for a claim that respondent's interest in the car, or in the money put up to secure the bond, entitled him to a speedy answer to his remission petition. Pp. 474 U. S. 249-250.

(b) Even if respondent had a property right under the remission statute that cannot be taken away without due process that includes a speedy answer to the remission petition, any due process requirement of timely disposition was more than adequately provided for here. It is not shown that he suffered any prejudice from the 36-day delay. Pp. 474 U. S. 250-251.

729 F.2d 657, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which BURGER, C.J., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 474 U. S. 251. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 474 U. S. 252.

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