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US v. Elliot, et al., 6th Circ., filed 11/30/17, Honeycutt Remand on Forfeiture Issue

December 5th, 2017
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

Abolishment of joint and several liability for forfeitures pursuant to §853(a)(1) of the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act of 1984.

The defendants in this case were convicted of being participants, in varying roles, in a “pill mill” scheme. Located in Florida, they were indicted in the Eastern District of Kentucky for conspiracy to distribute oxycodone in that area.  As the government proved at trial, numerous purchasers of the oxycodone travelled from Kentucky to Florida to take advantage of the highly generous pill dispensing proclivities of the business.  They were all sentenced to prison and forfeiture of proceeds.

After their convictions, the court assessed forfeiture proceeds from the conspiracy, $10 million in total, against them. The court applied the then-prevailing standards, and credited the defendants with $8 million previously forfeited by the owner of the pill mill, and then found the other co-defendants jointly and severally liable for the remaining $2 million. The court then reduced their liabilities in proportion to the percentage of the conspiracy that they participated in:  the doctor, at 80%, was jointly and severally liable for $1.6 million.  The security guard, it appears, was only 20% responsible.

After denying the various claims the defendants raised on appeal, the Court remanded back to the circuit court on the forfeiture issue.  The Court acknowledged the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Honeycutt v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 1626 (2017) that the forfeiture judgments used in this case no longer rest on appropriate legal foundations.  In Honeycutt, the Supreme Court overturned the forfeiture standard used in this case and found that “[f]orfeiture pursuant to §853(a)(1) is limited to property the defendant himself actually acquired as the result of the crime.  Honeycutt, 137 S. Ct. at 1635.  Forfeiture under this provision, then, is not subject to joint and several liability.

Just a reminder there’s been a substantial sea-change in the standards that control forfeitures for certain enumerated drug offenses.

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