Justices to Answer Forfeiture Question in Drug Cases

(CN) – The Supreme Court agreed to resolve a circuit split over whether a person convicted of selling products to make drugs should be required to forfeit store profits.

Terry Michael Honeycutt worked at his brother’s Brainerd Army Store in Chattanooga, Tenn. In 2008, he contacted local police because he was concerned about “edgy looking folks” buying Polar Pure, an iodine-based water purification product, according to court records.

Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force, told Honeycutt that Polar Pure was being used in the area to make methamphetamine. Farmer then told the police department and the Drug Enforcement Agency that Honeycutt was selling Polar Pure.

The DEA began investigating in 2009 and executed a search warrant the next year. The search found that Polar Pure was the store’s highest-grossing item, generating more than $269,000 in profit from the sale of over 20,000 bottles.

Agents seized the store’s 307 bottles of Polar Pure and the store closed after execution of the search warrant.

Honeycutt went to trial and was convicted of 11 charges related to selling iodine in violation of federal law. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of 60 months in prison for each count.

The district court that sentenced Honeycutt declined to order any forfeiture, finding that he did not reap the proceeds of the conspiracy as a salaried employee.

In March, the Sixth Circuit affirmed Honeycutt’s convictions.

“Despite repeated warnings by several law enforcement officers that the iodine he was selling was flowing directly into the meth labs of the area, Honeycutt nonetheless continued to sell Polar Pure,” Judge Eugene Siler Jr. wrote for a three-judge panel. “And again, although it became the store’s best-selling product, he did not display it openly, but rather hid it under the sales counter and sold it only to those customers who requested it—and did so on a don’t-ask-don’t-tell basis.”

However, the Cincinnati-based appeals court vacated Honeycutt’s sentences and remanded the case for the district court to reconsider a forfeiture order, citing its 2000 decision in United States v. Corrado.

Honeycutt appealed this summer, arguing in a petition for a writ of certiorari that the U.S. Supreme Court should resolve a conflict between the Sixth Circuit’s decision and a contrary one made by the D.C. Circuit in 2015’s United States v. Cano-Flores ruling.

“This case is a perfect vehicle to resolve the circuit split. The government expressly conceded in the district court that petitioner ‘did not stand to benefit personally from the illegal sales’…and the district court found that petitioner had not ‘personally … profited from the illegal conspiracy,’” the petition states. “The Sixth Circuit nonetheless ordered forfeiture based entirely on its application of the legal rule that petitioner must be jointly and severally liable for forfeiture of the proceeds obtained by his coconspirator. Thus, this case squarely presents the question of whether that legal rule is correct.”

On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether federal law requires joint and several liability among co-conspirators for the “forfeiture of the reasonably foreseeable proceeds” of a drug conspiracy.

Per its custom, the high court did not comment on its decision to take up the case.