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United States v. West

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

January 3, 2020

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER SCOTT WEST, Defendant.

          FORFEITURE ORDER

          C.J. Williams, United States District Judge.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION .......................................................................... 2

         II. RELEVANT BACKGROUND ........................................................... 2

         III. DISCUSSION ................................................................................ 3

         A. Is forfeiture moot? .................................................................. 4

         B. Is a professional license “property” subject to forfeiture? ................... 8

         C. Would forfeiture violate the Constitution? ..................................... 11

         1. Eighth Amendment Analysis ............................................. 11

         a. Would the forfeiture be grossly disproportional? ............ 12

         b. Would the punishment be more criminal than the crime? ..16

         2. Tenth Amendment Analysis .............................................. 17

         IV. CONCLUSION ............................................................................. 19

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on the government's motion for a forfeiture hearing. (Doc. 44). The government seeks forfeiture of defendant's professional nursing licenses. The parties filed forfeiture briefs. (Docs. 47 & 48). On January 2, 2020, the Court heard argument from the parties. (Doc. 50). For the following reasons, the Court finds that defendant's professional nursing licenses are subject to forfeiture. The Court will, accordingly, enter a preliminary order of forfeiture.

         II. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         On March 5, 2019, a grand jury charged defendant with several offenses. (Doc. 2). These included Tampering with a Consumer Product (Count 1), in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1365; and Acquiring and Attempting to Acquire a Controlled Substance by Misrepresentation, Fraud, Deception, or Subterfuge (Count 3), in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 843(a)(3) and 846. (Id.). Each count carries a maximum fine of $250, 000, for a total of $500, 000. (Doc. 49, at 1).

         The Indictment also contained a forfeiture allegation asserting that, due to defendant's criminal conduct, defendant must “forfeit to the United States of America . . . any property used, or intended to be used, in any manner or part, to commit, or to facilitate the commission of, the offenses.” (Doc. 2, at 5). The forfeiture allegation went on to identify that “[t]he property to be forfeited includes, but is not limited to . . . [d]efendant's State of Iowa nursing licenses, numbers 1XXX06 and D1XXX06[.]” (Id.). The forfeiture allegation was brought pursuant to Title 21, United States Code, Section 853.

         On August 1, 2019, defendant pled guilty to Counts 1 and 3 of the Indictment. (Docs. 28 & 30). On August 21, 2019, the Court accepted defendant's guilty plea. (Doc. 31). Defendant pled guilty pursuant to a written plea agreement. The plea agreement contained a stipulation of facts. (Doc. 48-1, at 3-16). In that section, defendant stipulated that he used his licenses to gain access to vials of narcotic pain relievers fentanyl and sufentanil, Schedule II controlled substances, that were intended for patients. Defendant then substituted saline solution for most of the controlled substances contained in the vials and took the controlled substances for his own personal use. Defendant admitted that his conduct constituted a reckless disregard for the safety of the patients.

         In the plea agreement, defendant admitted he “used and intended to use his two nursing licenses, State of Iowa license numbers 1XXX06 and D1XXX06, to commit and facilitate his crimes[.]” (Id., at 16). In paragraph 21 of the plea agreement, however, the parties agreed to litigate whether defendant's licenses are subject to forfeiture. (Id., at 21). Specifically, the parties agreed to litigate at a forfeiture hearing “(1) whether defendant's licenses are ‘property' for purposes of 21 U.S.C. § 853(b) and, if so, (2) whether the Eighth and Tenth Amendments to the United States Constitution render forfeiture of defendant's nursing licenses unconstitutional in this case.”

         On November 6, 2019, defendant entered into a settlement agreement with the Iowa Board of Nursing, the State of Iowa administrative agency in charge of licensing professional nurses. (Doc. 47-1). Under the settlement agreement, defendant agreed “to immediately relinquish all right, title, and privilege to practice nursing in the State of Iowa by voluntarily surrendering all Iowa nursing licenses.” (Id., at 3). Defendant was obliged to “immediately return the license renewal card/s (sic) to the Board office” and barred from making “application for reinstatement of licensure” for at least a year from the date of the agreement. (Id.).

         III. ...


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