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United States v. Ursery

Guy Ursery Grows His Own

Guy Ursery grew his own marijuana, but this Flint, Michigan, auto worker was not a drug dealer. "The most you could say was he was giving it to friends," his attorney later told the Los Angeles Times. On his property, Ursery had some 142 marijuana plants, none more than two feet tall, according to police who raided his place on a tip from the former girlfriend of Ursery's son. Inside the house, authorities found marijuana seeds, stems, stalks, and a "grow light" for enhancing plant growth. The federal government instituted forfeiture proceedings against the house, because it had been used to facilitate the processing of a controlled substance. Ursery settled the forfeiture claim with the federal government, paying $13,250; but just before the settlement, he was indicted for manufacturing marijuana and sentenced to five years, three months in jail.

The question before the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was whether, by seizing his property and sending him to prison, the federal government had violated the Fifth Amendment's Double Jeopardy Clause. The latter states that no person may be tried twice for the same crime: " . . . nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb . . . " Even though Ursery had not ultimately forfeited his property, he had paid what amounted to a sizeable fine, and had then been subjected to imprisonment. In the eyes of the court, this constituted double jeopardy.

Around the same time, a case with some similarities to Ursery's came to the attention of the government. Charles Wesley Arlt and James Wren had been convicted of conspiracy to aid and abet the manufacture of methamphetamine, a stimulant, in violation of federal law. They were also convicted on conspiracy to launder money, and on various money-laundering counts. Arlt received a life sentence plus ten years of supervised release, along with a fine of $250,000. Wren got a life sentence and a five-year term of supervised release. Before the end of the criminal trial, the United States filed an in rem, or civil property forfeiture, action against Arlt, Wren, and Payback Mines, a corporation controlled by Arlt. According to 18 U.S.C. 981(a)(1)(A), "Any property . . . involved in a transaction or attempted transaction in violation of [money-laundering statutes] is subject to forfeiture to the United States." Furthermore, 21 U.S.C. 881(a)(6) provides that "All . . . things of value furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for illegal drugs . . . all proceeds traceable to such an exchange . . . [and] all moneys, negotiable instruments, and securities used or intended to facilitate" a federal drug felony, shall be forfeited.

The various parties in the Arlt-Wren matter agreed to defer litigation over the civil forfeiture action until the end of the criminal case. More than a year after the conclusion of that trial, by which time Arlt and Wren were behind bars, the district court granted the federal government's motion for summary judgment. Arlt and Wren appealed, and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed on the double-jeopardy grounds. Given the similarities to the Ursery case--although there were crucial differences, including the fact that Ursery was manufacturing drugs for his own use, not to mention the serious differences in potency between marijuana and methamphetamines--the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review them together.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentUnited States v. Ursery - Significance, Guy Ursery Grows His Own, Various Items, Emerald Cut Stones, And 89 Firearms