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A punitive forfeiture violates the Excessive Fines Clause of U.S. Const. amend. VIII if it is grossly disproportional to the gravity of a defendant's offense.
Respondent Hosep Bajakajian attempted to leave the United States without reporting, as required by 31 U.S.C.S. § 5316(a), that he was transporting more than $ 10,000 in currency. Respondent pleaded guilty to a charge of having failed to report as required by § 5316(a)(1)(a), and with having done so willfully, in violation of 31 U.S.C.S. § 5322(a). The trial court found that respondent had failed to report the money because of fear stemming from cultural differences. Although the trial court found that the entire $ 357,144 was subject to forfeiture under the authority of 18 U.S.C.S. § 982(a)(1), it instead ordered a much smaller forfeiture because it found that a forfeiture of the entire amount would violate the Excessive Fines Clause of U.S. Const. amend. VIII. The United States appealed the trial court's judgment.
Would the forfeiture of the entire $ 357,144 violate the Excessive Fines Clause of U.S. Const. amend. VIII?
The Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment, holding that the forfeiture, pursuant to 982(a)(1), of the full $ 357,144, involved in the case at hand, would constitute punishment and thus would be a "fine" within the meaning of the Excessive Fines Clause. According to the Court, a punitive forfeiture would violate the Excessive Fines Clause if the amount of the forfeiture was grossly disproportional to the gravity of a defendant's offense. The Court concluded that in the case at hand, the forfeiture of the full $ 357,144 would violate the excessive fines clause, because such full forfeiture would be grossly disproportional to the gravity of the respondent’s reporting offense.