News Release

Forfeiture Held Unconstitutional; Would Violate 'Excessive Fines' Clause

Statement of NACDL President Gerald B. Lefcourt

Washington, DC (June 22, 1998) -- The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers lauds today's U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Bajakajian, No. 96-1487, holding that forfeiture of Mr. Bajakajian's savings solely for his failure to report it to a U.S. Customs officer before leaving the country would be, as Justice Thomas wrote,"grossly disproportional to the gravity of his offense." Following today's decision, NACDL President Gerald B. Lefcourt, New York City, issued the following statement:

"Making the punishment fit the crime -- what we know as 'proportionality' -- is the very essence of our concept of justice. In this case, Mr. Bajakajian's sole offense was his failure to tell a Customs officer he was traveling overseas with his own money to repay a lawful debt. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the punishment for this offense is up to six months imprisonment and a fine of $5,000. As the Court held, the government's refusal to return Mr. Bajakajian's $357,000 amounts to an exorbitant second fine. That result would be outrageous and abhorrent to our system of justice in America."

[Click Here] for the text of the Supreme Court's decision.

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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.