United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
William W. Caldwell United States District Judge
this court is Petitioner Eric Paul Emmanuel's
“Request for Personal Property.” (Doc. 200). We
construed the request as a motion for return of property
under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g), and required
a response from the Government. (Docs. 201 & 202). For
the reasons that follow, we will deny Plaintiff's motion.
Eric Paul Emmanuel is an inmate located at Moshannan Valley
Correctional Facility in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. (Doc.
200). On November 12, 2010, a jury convicted Emmanuel of
drug-related charges in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§
841(a)(1), 846. (Doc. 99). On April 29, 2011, Emmanuel was
sentenced to 121 months' imprisonment followed by five
years' supervised release. (Doc. 109-10). On October 18,
2012, the Third Circuit affirmed Emmanuel's conviction
and sentence. (Doc. 152-2 at 2).
November 2, 2016, Emmanuel filed the instant pro se
motion alleging that, “[u]pon my arrest personal
property was taken away from me but never returned.”
(Doc. 200). Emmanuel indicates that the items taken include
his wallet and its contents, such as his driver's license
and debit cards. (Id.) Emmanuel seeks return of that
property from the Government to a specific address, and notes
that, if the Government “do[es] not have the items in
question in [its] possession, but ha[s] knowledge of who
does, please direct me accordingly.” (Id.)
Emmanuel seeks only the return of his property as relief. We
construed Emmanuel's request as a motion to return
property pursuant to Rule 41(g) and ordered the Government to
respond. (Doc. 201).
February 14, 2017, the Government responded to Emmanuel's
motion and attached three documents from the Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) listing items of Emmanuel's property
that were transferred into DEA custody from the Pennsylvania
State Police (PSP), including, among other things,
property of which Emmanuel now seeks return: a “brown
leather wallet with numerous cards.” (Doc. 202 at 2-4).
The first DEA document indicates that the evidence was seized
from Emmanuel on January 31, 2010, was entered into evidence
by the PSP, and was taken out of PSP custody and transferred
into DEA custody on August 24, 2010. (Doc. 202-1 at 2). A
second document indicates that the evidence underwent
abandonment proceedings, and, on November 2, 2012, was
“Destroyed, ” stating: “The foregoing
exhibits, described above, have undergone abandonment
proceedings . . . and may be disposed [in accordance with] 41
CFR 128, Authorities and Responsibilities for Personal
Property Management.” (Id. at 3). A third
document, prepared on February 12, 2013, states: “All
administrative and judicial aspects of this case have been
disposed of, all evidence and seized property have been
disposed of, and all required reports submitted. Upon
concurrence of [the Resident Agent in Charge] . . . this case
will be closed.” (Id. at 4). Citing to this
third document, the Government asserts that the items seized
“underwent abandonment proceedings pursuant to agency
regulations and were destroyed as of February 12,
2013.” (Id. at 2).
Government did not provide documentation of the abandonment
proceedings, and the record is unclear as to whether Emmanuel
received notice of, or an opportunity to be heard at, such
proceedings. Despite an opportunity to do so, Emmanuel did
not file a reply to the Government's response, but, in
his original motion, he appears to be unaware of such
proceedings. (Doc. 200 at 1).
seized by the government as part of a criminal investigation
‘must be returned once criminal proceedings have
concluded, unless it is contraband or subject to
forfeiture.'” United States v. Albinson,
356 F.3d 278, 280 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting United States
v. Chambers, 192 F.3d 374, 376 (3d Cir. 1999)). A person
aggrieved by the deprivation of property may file a motion
under Rule 41(g) to request its return. See Fed. R.
Crim. P. 41(g); United States v. Bein, 214 F.3d 408
(3d Cir. 2000). The government bears the evidentiary burden
when a motion to return property is made after termination of
criminal proceedings. Chambers, 192 F.3d at 377.
“At that point, the person from whom the property was
seized is presumed to have a right to its return, and the
government must demonstrate that it has a legitimate reason
to retain the property.” Id.
the Government, without citation to any legal or regulatory
authority, contends that Emmanuel's motion should be
denied because it no longer possesses his property because
the property “underwent abandonment proceedings
pursuant to agency regulations and w[as] destroyed as of
February 12, 2013.” (Doc. 202 at 2).
motion for return of property is not rendered moot merely
because the government no longer possesses the seized
property.” Chambers, 192 F.3d at 377. In the
event that the government claims that it does not possess the
property in response to a Rule 41(g) motion, courts must
conduct a two-part inquiry: (1) we “must determine, in
fact, whether the government retains possession of the
property, ” and (2) if we find that the government no
longer possesses the property, we “must determine what
happened to the property.” Id. at 378.
“The government cannot defeat a properly filed motion
for return of property merely by stating that it has
destroyed the property or given the property to third
parties.” Id. at 377. “The government
must do more than state, without documentary support, that it
no longer possesses the property at issue.”
Id. at 377-78.
41(g) directs district courts to “receive evidence on
any factual issue necessary to decide the motion.” Fed.
R. Crim. P. 41(g). Although an evidentiary hearing may be
helpful in making evidentiary determinations, “a
district court need not necessarily conduct an evidentiary
hearing on every Rule 41(g) motion.” Albinson,
356 F.3d at 281. An evidentiary hearing is not necessary to
determine what happened to the property if no disputed issue
of fact exists. See Id. at 281-82. Evidence such as
affidavits or chain of custody records, “may be
sufficient” for a court to render a decision.
Id. at 282.
case, there do not appear to be any factual disputes, and,
based on the uncontested documents supplied by the
Government, we find that the Government no longer possesses
Emmanuel's property and that the property was destroyed.
However, even where the Government disposes or destroys a
petitioner's property, we must receive “evidence to
determine whether ...