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UNITED STATES v. $ 639

November 19, 1990

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$ 639,558, Defendant


Stanley Sporkin, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPORKIN

STANLEY SPORKIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This is an in rem civil action in which the United States is seeking forfeiture of currency in the amount of $ 639,558 seized from Christopher Todd Bleichfeld, who has filed a claim for return of the currency. The government contends that forfeiture is justified due to Mr. Bleichfeld's involvement in drug law and money laundering violations. Claimant has petitioned this Court to suppress the cash and all other evidence seized by the government on the grounds that the search and seizure of claimant's luggage violated the Fourth Amendment.

 BACKGROUND

 On August 11, 1988, Captain Suave, Detective Vance Beard, and Captain Robert Moss, agents of the Interdiction Group, Narcotics Branch, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department boarded an Amtrak train at Union Station in Washington, D.C. with a fully trained drug detector dog. *fn1" The officers were investigating Mr. Bleichfeld because his travel pattern conformed to many of the factors in the drug courier profile. Mr. Bleichfeld was traveling from Fort Lauderdale to New York City by train on a ticket which had been purchased in cash; in addition, Mr. Bleichfeld changed his accommodations several times during his trip. *fn2"

 The officers walked the dog past Mr. Bleichfeld's compartment on the train, but the dog failed to show more than a passing interest. The officers then spotted Mr. Bleichfeld entering his compartment. They knocked on the door and identified themselves as law enforcement officers searching for drugs. The officers requested Mr. Bleichfeld's consent to search his compartment. He did not give his consent, but he did agree to a dog sniff of his luggage, which he placed in the aisle of the train outside the compartment. The dog gave a positive alert, and as a result of that fact along with his response to the police officers' questions, the background of his ticket purchase, and his activities on the train, Mr. Bleichfeld was placed under arrest.

 Before leaving the train, the officers handcuffed Mr. Bleichfeld and collected all his luggage, which consisted of three pieces, a briefcase, a small suitcase, and a large suitcase weighing about 80 pounds. Mr. Bleichfeld and his luggage were removed from the train and taken from the platform to the Sergeant's office in Union Station. The luggage was not opened.

 At this point, Mr. Bleichfeld had been under arrest and in handcuffs for a substantial period of time. The officers' original intent had been to obtain a search warrant in order to open Mr. Bleichfeld's luggage at the Sergeant's office. Detective Vance Beard was uncertain, however, whether a search warrant was actually required and decided to phone Assistant United States Attorney Robert Andary, who was one of the United States Attorney's Offices foremost experts on search warrant issues. Detective Beard's judgment cannot be faulted.

 After speaking with Detective Beard about the situation, AUSA Andary concluded that the luggage could be searched without a warrant as a search incident to arrest. Following this advice, the officers proceeded to open and search Mr. Bleichfeld's luggage. No drugs were found. Instead, the agents found currency in the amount of $ 635,000 along with eight safety deposit keys, and ledgers detailing Mr. Bleichfeld's various expenses.

 Mr. Bleichfeld contends that the search of his luggage by the police officers violated the Fourth Amendment because it was not authorized by a warrant and was not incident to arrest, as the search took place at a time and location distant from his arrest. Mr. Bleichfeld asks this Court to suppress the currency and related evidence.

 The rule of suppression applies to forfeiture actions. One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Pennsylvania, 380 U.S. 693, 14 L. Ed. 2d 170, 85 S. Ct. 1246 (1965); United States v. $ 124,570, 873 F.2d 1240 (9th Cir. 1989); One 1960 Oldsmobile Convertible Coupe v. United States, 125 U.S. App. D.C. 305, 371 F.2d 958 (D.C. Cir. 1966). A motion to suppress is the proper vehicle to test the legality of the search and seizure in a civil forfeiture case. Id.

 DISCUSSION

 The search incident to arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement is articulated by the Supreme Court in Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685, 89 S. Ct. 2034 (1969). This doctrine permits warrantless searches of ...


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