Honeycutt v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: June 5, 2017
  • Case #: 16–142
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except GORSUCH, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under 21 U.S.C. §853, “a defendant may not be held jointly and severally liable for property that his co-conspirator derived from a crime but that the defendant did not himself acquire.”

Petitioner managed a store owned by his brother that sold “Polar Pure,” which is a product used for purifying large amounts of water and was known to be used in the process of manufacturing methamphetamines. After having sold large amounts of the product, the store was raided by the DEA and a grand jury indicted the brothers for the sale of the product either knowingly or “having reason to believe” that it was to be used in the manufacture of methamphetamines. The government then sought money judgments against both brothers under § 853(a)(1). Petitioner’s brother pleaded guilty and accepted the judgment against him. Petitioner, on the other hand, went to trial and was acquitted on 3 of the 14 charges brought against him. Petitioner was then sentenced to 60 months in prison. However, the district court refused to find him jointly and severally liable under § 853 because he had “no ‘controlling interest in the store’” and would therefore “not stand to benefit personally.” Respondents then appealed to the Sixth Circuit that reversed the ruling determining that because the brothers were co-conspirators, they both should be held equally responsible for the actions done during that conspiracy. Petitioners then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court that granted certiorari to decide whether § 853 imposes joint and several liability on forfeiture judgments. The Court determined reasoning that the section could not include joint and several liability because to do so would contravene § 853’s restriction to only cause property tainted by the criminal acts to be forfeited. REVERSED. 

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