Today, in a 5 to 3 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that in order for the government to freeze the assets of a criminal defendant that are needed to pay for legal representation, the government must prove that the money is related to criminal conduct. The case involved Miami resident Sila Luis. Luis was charged with Medicare Fraud. The government froze $40 million of her assets. Luis appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the money was not related to the claims of Medicare Fraud and that by freezing her assets, she was unable to pay for the attorney that she wanted to represent her in the case. The Supreme Court agreed with her and found that by freezing her assets, she was deprived of her 6th Amendment right to hire the lawyer of her choice.
This case is important because it deals with the issue of Civil Forfeiture in criminal prosecutions. The government has been using this process increasingly to freeze assets of criminal defendants. It has almost become routine in high profile criminal prosecutions for the government to make it impossible for defendants to be able to hire the attorney of their choice. This all happens before trial while the defendant is presumed to be innocent. Critics call this unfair and that the government is making it difficult for people to hire the attorney of their choice and making it easier for prosecutors to win their cases. While the government will still be able to try to freeze assets, this decision means that the process will no longer be “automatic” and will require that the government work harder to justify the freezing of certain assets.
James Dimeas is an award winning Chicago criminal defense attorney and author with more than 23 years of experience aggressively representing his clients in criminal cases. If you have a criminal case in Illinois, contact me in Chicago (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096) or Lake (847-696-6458) for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.