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United States v. Wilson, No. 11-1821

Decided: November 8, 2012

The Fourth Circuit denied a Rule 60(b)(4) motion to vacate a civil forfeiture judgment. Although the government failed to meet the 90-day mandatory timeline imposed by 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(3), Wilson failed to raise this defense during the forfeiture action and thus forfeited it.

On October 27, 2006, law enforcement officers stopped Wilson’s automobile to arrest him for drug trafficking charges.   Wilson had $13,963 on his person, which was seized. Wilson then filed a claim for the return of the money, asserting that it came from legitimate sources of income. Wilson’s filing triggered a 90-day period in which the government was required to file a formal complaint or take other action in pursuit of civil forfeiture, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(3).  The government filed the complaint twenty days late. Wilson failed to raise this issue in the civil forfeiture proceeding, and the district court concluded that the money was substantially connected to his drug-trafficking activities.  Wilson then filed a Rule 60(b)(4) motion to vacate the judgment due to the government’s late filing of the forfeiture complaint. Wilson argued that since the time limit was jurisdictional, the district court lacked authority to enter the forfeiture judgment. The government conceded that it had filed the complaint twenty days late, but argued that the time limit was a statute of limitations that Wilson had failed to raise and therefore forfeited. The district court agreed with the government.

The Fourth Circuit concluded that Congress did not create a condition on the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction by imposing a 90-day deadline on the government for filing civil forfeiture actions.  18 U.S.C. § 983 contains procedural rules for pursuing a civil forfeiture.  § 983(a)(3) is not a condition of jurisdiction based on its language, the fact that the provision allows for extending the 90-day time period, and the provision’s location separate from the provisions concerning subject matter jurisdiction over forfeiture proceedings. Further, § 983(a)(3) provides that if the government fails to meet the deadline, the government must release the property and loses all rights to pursue it further. It does not provide that the court loses subject matter jurisdiction for failing to meet the deadline. There is no precedent to support Wilson’s argument that the deadline is jurisdictional, and the law typically treats a limitations defense as an affirmative defense that the defendant must raise.

Full Opinion

-Jenna Hendricks