Honeycutt v. United States
On March 26, 2017, the United States Supreme Court heard argument in an important criminal forfeiture case that presents the Court with the opportunity to rein in excessive law enforcement tactics that have come under recent public and media criticism for over-reaching by law enforcement.
In Honeycutt v. United States, the Supreme Court will decide the question whether there is statutory authority to hold criminal defendants jointly and severally liable for forfeiture of criminal proceeds. That means one defendant – even with a smaller role in the criminal conduct – may be equally responsible for forfeiture as those defendants who are more criminally culpable. All but one circuit court has permitted forfeiture under a joint and several liability theory, provided that the criminal proceeds were foreseeable to the defendant and the defendant's role in the offense was not so insignificant that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause would be triggered. The DC Circuit, on the other hand, has held that there is no statutory authority whatsoever for joint and several liability under any circumstances.
From the oral argument presented and questions asked by the Court, it is unclear which way the Court will rule. Rest assured that this case will be closely watched by criminal law practitioners as it could show how far a reach the Supreme Court will allow law enforcement in forfeiture matters going forward.
Linda Dale Hoffa
Partner; Chair, White Collar/Corporate Investigations Group – Dilworth Paxson LLP