Thursday, March 31, 2016

Pre-trial "freeze" of assets violates the 6th Amendment, says Supreme Court

Imagine if you will: a person who is suspected of a crime, and may have had some income from that crime, is being investigated as a suspect. Federal authorities were allowed to "freeze" that suspect's assets, including bank accounts, and other things. It was essentially a way to make sure the asset (if connected with the crime) would not be used by the defendant, in case there was restitution ordered (or so a prosecutor would argue). 

A federal law that allows courts to order pretrial freezes on assets that are untainted by crime violates the Sixth Amendment rights of defendants who are unable to pay their lawyers, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-3 decision.

The court ruled (PDF) Wednesday on behalf of Sila Luis, who was charged with Medicare fraud. The government obtained a pretrial order freezing $2 million in assets in hopes of preserving the money for restitution and penalties. The order was obtained under a law that allows pretrial freezes on assets that are tied to a crime, as well as assets “of equivalent value.”

The “equivalent value” provision is unconstitutional to the extent it prevents the defendant from paying her lawyer, the Supreme Court found.
Article here (via aba journal). 

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