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UNITED STATES V. 89 FIREARMS, 465 U. S. 354 (1984)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. 89 Firearms, 465 U.S. 354 (1984)

United States v. One Assortment of 89 Firearms

No. 82-1047

Argued November 30, 1983

Decided February 22, 1984

465 U.S. 354


Upon trial in Federal District Court, defendant Mulcahey, who asserted the defense of entrapment, was acquitted of charges of knowingly engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(1). The Government then instituted this in rem action for forfeiture of the firearms involved, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. i 924(d), which authorizes forfeitures of any firearms "involved in or used or intended to be used in, any violation of the provisions of this chapter." Ordering forfeiture, the District Court rejected Mulcahey's defenses of res judicata and collateral estoppel based on his earlier acquittal. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that, because the § 924(d) forfeiture proceeding was criminal and punitive in nature, it was barred by double jeopardy principles in view of Mulcahey's prior acquittal. Relying on Coffey v. United States, 116 U. S. 436, the Court of Appeals also held that the forfeiture action was barred by collateral estoppel, because it was based upon the same facts as the earlier criminal action.

Held: A gun owner's acquittal on criminal charges involving firearms does not preclude a subsequent in rem forfeiture proceeding against those firearms under § 924(d). Pp. 465 U. S. 357-366.

(a) To the extent that Coffey v. United States, supra, suggests that collateral estoppel or double jeopardy automatically bars a civil, remedial forfeiture proceeding following an acquittal on related criminal charges, it is disapproved. Cf. Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U. S. 391; One Lot Emerald Cut Stones v. United States, 409 U. S. 232. Pp. 465 U. S. 357-361.

(b) The difference in the relative burdens of proof in the criminal and civil actions precludes the application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Acquittal on a criminal charge merely reflects the existence of a reasonable doubt as to Mulcahey's guilt, not innocence. Nor did the acquittal negate the possibility that a preponderance of the evidence in the forfeiture proceeding could show that Mulcahey was engaged in an unlicensed firearms business. Pp. 465 U. S. 361-362.

(c) The Double Jeopardy Clause does not apply to civil proceedings, and is not applicable here. Under the procedural mechanisms established for enforcing forfeitures under § 924(d), Congress intended such

Page 465 U. S. 355

forfeitures to be civil and remedial, rather than criminal and punitive. Moreover, the differences in the language of § 924(d), which subjects to forfeiture firearms used or "intended to be used" in substantive offenses and § 922(a)(1), which does not render unlawful mere intention to deal in firearms without a license, shows that the forfeiture provisions were meant to be broader in scope than the criminal sanctions. The forfeiture provision also furthers broad remedial aims of controlling the indiscriminate flow of firearms. Nor is the statutory scheme so punitive either in purpose or effect as to negate Congress' intention to establish a civil remedial mechanism. Pp. 465 U. S. 362-366.

685 F.2d 913, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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