United States v. Ferro

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 06-12-2012
  • Case #: 10-55734; 10-56808
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Bea for the Court; Circuit Judges Pregerson and Hawkins
  • Full Text Opinion

In an in rem forfeiture proceeding under 18 U.S.C. § 924(d), the determination of whether a forfeiture violates the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment should be based solely on the actions of the actual property owner, and the actions of the person that caused the forfeiture to occur.

Robert Farro was convicted of possession of prohibited explosives under California law in 1992, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Prior to his conviction, Robert conveyed his gun collection to his wife Maria Farro. In 2006, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (“ATF”) searched Robert’s house, found 1,679 firearms, and filed an action in rem for their forfeiture pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(d). Maria raised the “innocent owner” defense, claiming that she did not know “of the conduct giving rise to the forfeiture.” The district court ruled that because Maria knew that Robert was a felon and that he possessed firearms, she was not an innocent owner. Thus, the district court ordered the firearms forfeited. Maria moved to remit the forfeiture on the basis that the forfeiture violated the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. The district court granted the motion in part, and Maria was entitled to ten percent of the value of the forfeiture. Both Maria and the government appealed. First, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court correctly dismissed Maria’s innocent owner claim. Second, the Court held that because of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, non-contraband goods that were immune from analysis under the instrumentality test are no longer immune. Third, the Court reasoned that to apply the excessive fine test properly, the district court should have looked at the actions of the owner, Maria, and the actions of Robert that led directly to the forfeiture. The Court held that the current ruling should be vacated and the issue should be retried in district court. AFFIRMED in part, VACATED in part, and REMANDED.

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