UNITED STATES v. BAJAKAJIAN

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
96-1487
Petitioner 
United States
Respondent 
Bajakajian
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
(Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

During a routine check of departing international flight passengers, customs officers discovered $357,144 on the person of Hosep Bajakajian. In addition to charging him, under 31 U.S.C. Section 5316, of attempting to leave the United States with an unreported sum in excess of $10,000 cash, the government also sought forfeiture of the entire $357,144 under 18 U.S.C. Section 982 providing that the deliberate violation of Section 5316 shall result in the forfeiture of "any property involved in such an offense." After having its forfeiture claim rejected in both a district court and the Ninth Circuit, as excessively unconstitutional, the Supreme Court granted the government certiorari.

Question 

Is the forfeiture of $357,144 cash, a sum involved in the offense of failure to report property in excess of $10,000 while attempting to leave the country, a violation of the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Bajakajian, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 18 U.S.C. 982

Yes. In a 5-to-4 opinion, the Court held that the government's ability to extract fines is limited by the Excessive Fines Clause. The forfeiture of currency, when ordered for a violation of a reporting statute, is a punitive measure which constitutes a "fine" under the Eighth Amendment. Noting the importance of making punishments proportional to their crimes, the Court reminded that currency transportation is generally permissible. Bajakajian's failure to do so within statutory reporting guidelines was neither related to other illegal activity nor did it result in loss to the government. Therefore, forfeiture of the entire sum would be grossly disproportional to the gravity of his offense.

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UNITED STATES v. BAJAKAJIAN. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 04 April 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_1487>.
UNITED STATES v. BAJAKAJIAN, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_1487 (last visited April 4, 2014).
"UNITED STATES v. BAJAKAJIAN," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed April 4, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_1487.