United States District Court, D. Maine
ORDER ON MOTION TO RECONSIDER ORDER DENYING MOTION
FOR RETURN OF PROPERTY SEIZED POST-CONVICTION
A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Court grants in part a defendant's motion to reconsider
its order denying his motion for return of certain property
that the government seized, related only to counts of an
indictment that the government has dismissed. Under Federal
Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g) and First Circuit authority,
the Court will treat the defendant's motion as a civil
complaint, requesting equitable relief. The Court has allowed
the government thirty days to apprise the Court as to the
current status of the seized property.
October 30, 2014, James Stile pleaded guilty to robbery of
controlled substances from a DEA registered pharmacy, a
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2118(a). Minute Entry
(ECF No. 541); Am. Plea Agreement at 1 (ECF No.
542). On May 29, 2015, the Court sentenced Mr. Stile to 120
months incarceration, $13, 306.93 in restitution, a $100.00
special assessment, and five years of supervised release.
J. (ECF No. 579). On June 8, 2015, Mr. Stile filed a
notice of appeal. Notice of Appeal (ECF No. 581). On
July 9, 2015, Mr. Stile moved for an order requiring the
Government to return seized property to him. Mot. for
Return of Property Seized Post Conviction (ECF No.
21, 2015, the Court dismissed Mr. Stile's motion without
prejudice. Order on Mot. for Return of Prop. Seized
Post-Conviction (ECF No. 602). The Court observed that
it is questionable whether a defendant has the right to the
return of property that may be connected to the facts
underlying his appeal. Id. at 1. Also the Court
noted that under United States v. Guzman, 85 F.3d
823 (1st Cir. 1996), a request for return of seized property
is "separable from, and has no effect upon, the
appellant's conviction and sentence" and therefore a
defendant may "bring an independent civil action for the
return of property." Id. (quoting
Guzman, 85 F.3d at 830). On July 31, 2015, Mr. Stile
moved for reconsideration of the July 21, 2015 order.
Mot. for Recons. of Order on Def. Mot. for Return of
Prop. Seized, Not Forfeited, and to Include Seized Monies of
$696.00 (ECF No. 605). On August 3, 2015, the Court
denied the motion for reconsideration. Order Denying Mot.
for Recons. (ECF No. 606).
19, 2016, Mr. Stile filed yet another motion, seeking
reconsideration of the order denying his initial motion.
Mot. for Return of Prop. to be Recons. by this Ct.
Pursuant to Rule 41(g) of the Fed. Crim. Pro. Rules (ECF
No. 612). In his second motion for reconsideration, Mr. Stile
alleges that the property "being petitioned to be
returned, was alleged evidence to the charge that was
dismissed and therefore should not be subject to any
encumbrances by the government or this court."
Id. at 2. Mr. Stile complains that the "court,
being familiar with the case should not have made an
‘assumption' that the seized property may be
connected to the facts underlying his pending appeal"
because the pending appeal "has to do with the sentence
of the robbery, nothing to do with a charge already
dismissed." Id. at 3. Citing Federal Rule of
Criminal Procedure 41(g), Mr. Stile further argues that
although he may bring a separate action to recover the
property, he is not compelled to do so. Id. Mr.
Stile specifies that he is seeking "all lighting, air
conditioning, ventilation equipment, mechanical equipment,
fans, filters, and horticultural equipment, to include also
one Dewalt screw gun, one garden hose, and all other
miscellaneous items that were seized that were not relevant
to the robbery conviction of the defendant in the instant
Government briefly responded on June 9, 2016.
Gov't's Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for Return of
Prop. to be Recons. by this Ct. Pursuant to Rule 41(b) of the
Fed. Rules of Crim. Pro. (ECF No. 613). The Government
wrote that Mr. Stile's motion should be dismissed, but it
expressed a willingness to "work with" the
Piscataquis County Sheriff's Office to determine whether
the non-robbery, plant growing items seized during execution
of the search warrant are still in the County's
possession. Id. If and when the location of those
items is identified, the Government represented that it would
coordinate their return with Mr. Stile or his representative.
grand jury charged James Stile in a four-count indictment:
Count One alleged a controlled substance robbery on September
12, 2011; Count Two alleged the possession of a firearm in
furtherance of the pharmacy robbery alleged in Count One;
Count Three alleged that Mr. Stile, having been convicted of
a felony, possessed a firearm on September 12-13, 2011; and
Count Four alleged that Mr. Stile manufactured 100 or more
marijuana plants on September 13, 2011. Indictment
(ECF No. 8). After the robbery, local law enforcement
obtained search warrants and searched Mr. Stile's
residence, and as a consequence of the searches took
possession of a number of items of personal property. See
generally Order on First Pro Se Mot. to Suppress (ECF
No. 294). On October 30, 2014, Mr. Stile pleaded guilty only
to Count One and the Government agreed to dismiss Counts Two
through Four at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing.
Minute Entry (ECF No. 541); Agreement to Plead
Guilty (With Stips. and Appeal Waiver) at 1-2 (ECF No.
540). The Court sentenced Mr. Stile to 120 months
incarceration on May 29, 2015, on Count One of the
indictment. J. (ECF No. 579). At the conclusion of
the sentencing hearing, the Government moved to dismiss
Counts Two through Four and the Court granted the motion.
Oral Mot. (ECF No. 577); Oral Order (ECF
No. 578); J. at 1.
seized personal property is connected to the pending appeal,
this Court should not order its return. United States v.
Uribe-Londono, 238 Fed.Appx. 628, 629-30 (1st Cir. 2007)
("[A] Rule 41(g) motion is properly denied if the
defendant is not entitled to lawful possession of the seized
property, the property is contraband or subject to
forfeiture, or the government's need for the property as
evidence continues"). However, "once the government
no longer has a need to use the evidence, it should be
returned." United States v. Garcia, 65 F.3d 17,
20 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Fed. R. Crim. P.
41(e) advisory committee's note to 1989
the Court's initial review of the items of personal
property in contention, the items seem to be related solely
to the dismissed Count Four, the marijuana cultivation count.
Now that the Government has dismissed Count Four, the Court
is unclear why the Government would have any ongoing right to
possess Mr. Stile's personal property if the property is
unrelated to any pending criminal charge. At least the
Government has not asserted a basis for claiming the right to
continued possession of such items as a garden hose,
ventilation equipment, and similar horticultural equipment.
same time, the Court is acutely aware that during his case,
Mr. Stile took the stand and testified that he was unaware
that there was a marijuana grow operation in his residence:
Q. Wasn't there a large marijuana grow operation going on
in your ...