The United States Supreme Court announced its decision in an important case that involved two important rights—the right to an attorney and the right of the government to freeze and later forfeit defendants’ assets.
In 2012, Sila Luis was indicted for federal health-care fraud in the amount of $45 million. Ms. Luis had $2 million in assets when a federal grand jury indicted her. Ms. Luis did not earn those assets through any allegedly illegal scheme. She said that she hoped to use the funds to pay for her legal defense.
At the same time, the Government secured a pretrial order prohibiting Ms. Luis from dissipating her assets, including assets unrelated to her alleged crimes. CASE. The Government argued that 18 U.S.C. § 1345(a)(2) allowed to do that.
According to 18 U.S.C. § 1345(a)(2):
If a person is alienating or disposing of property, or intends to alienate or dispose of property, obtained as a result of a banking law violation … or a federal health care offense … the attorney general may commence a civil action in any Federal court — (A) to enjoin such alienation or disposition of property; or (B) for a restraining order to … prohibit any person from withdrawing, transferring, removing, dissipating, or disposing of any such property or property of equivalent value.
As a result, virtually all Ms. Luis’s assets—including those she obtained lawfully—were frozen. Ms. Luis argued that applying this statute to her and seizing those untainted funds would violate her Sixth Amendment right to seek assistance of counsel of her choice. Though the District Court recognized CASE that the order might prevent Luis from obtaining counsel of her choice, it held that the Sixth Amendment did not give her the right to use her own untainted funds for that purpose. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
The Supreme Court disagreed and prohibited the government from seizing legitimate funds that defendants could use to hire a lawyer of their choice. The Supreme Court vacated the judgement and remanded the case.
In the plurality opinion, Justice Breyer wrote, that the right to counsel is a fundamental constitutional guarantee. At the same time, the government’s interest in recovering money is merely important. However, the right to counsel of choice outweighs the government’s right to freeze assets that were obtained in a lawful way to secure government’s interest in restitution and fines.
Justice Clarence Thomas voted with the plurality but did not adopt what he called the balancing approach. If the right to counsel is a fundamental constitutional guarantee, he said, it cannot be weighed against other interests.
At Stowers & Sarcone we have fought for and won the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars for our clients. We have successfully fought for the return of cars, computers, phones and other property too. The key is having an experienced property seizure and forfeiture lawyer. There are a host of reasons that might form the basis for the return of your money. The Supreme Court decision in Luis is only one of them. We are here to help you fight to get your money back. Call Stowers & Sarcone now! (515) 224-7446.