In the future, defendants should now be able to use funds unrelated to the alleged crime to pay reasonable fees for legal assistance. When prosecutors attempt to freeze contaminated assets before trial, courts often have to conduct an analysis to determine which of an accused`s assets are linked to the alleged crime and which are not. This will certainly add a layer of complexity before trial, but one that should ultimately benefit a number of defendants who want to ensure they have quality legal representation. “Allowing the government to freeze Luis` immaculate assets,” Breyer wrote, “would, in this case, trigger a principle of constitutional law that would have no obvious stopping point. Last week, the Supreme Court further clarified procedures and limits on the government`s ability to freeze law enforcement assets. Following the 2014 decision in Kaley v. In the United States, where the court ruled (in favor of the government) that a defendant cannot challenge the legality of a pre-trial asset seizure by challenging the grand jury`s decision on probable cause, the court last week expanded the asset forfeiture law by siding with the defendants and limiting the government`s ability to freeze “impeccable” assets. The judgment of the Court of Justice of 30 March 2016 in the case of Luis v. The United States believes that the government`s freeze on “uncontaminated” assets (i.e. money unrelated to the alleged crimes) violates the right to legal redress through free choice. The issue in Luis was whether the government can freeze a defendant`s assets prior to trial if the property is unrelated to the crime and is necessary to maintain the Sixth Amendment`s choice of counsel for the defendant. Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the Breyer majority that freezing Luis` assets violated the Sixth Amendment, but for a different reason. Thomas would avoid the “balanced approach” of plurality, looking only at the text of the Sixth Amendment and the state of the law when that amendment was ratified.
And at the time, he explained, the Sixth Amendment was understood to only guarantee the right to hire an attorney to represent you in a criminal case; There was no more general right for the government to provide you with a lawyer. That right would have been “meaningless,” he continued, if a defendant had not been able to use his own uncontaminated money for it. The government has sought to freeze these assets under federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1345(a)(2)) that allows for the seizure of property “obtained as a result of a crime,” property that “can be attributed” to a crime, and other “property of equal value” (including presumably immaculate property). The government received a pre-court order freezing the $2 million in an effort to pay reparations and criminal penalties if Luis was eventually convicted. Luis said she intended to use the $2 million for her legal defense, arguing that the assets freeze violated her right to “the assistance of a defense lawyer” of her choice. The district court acknowledged that the order could prevent Luis from hiring the lawyer she was looking for, but found that Luis had no fundamental right to use the immaculate property to pay for her defense. The Court of Appeal of the Eleventh District confirmed. The majority agreed that the lower courts wrongly allowed the government to freeze Luis` immaculate assets before his trial.
In his majority opinion, Breyer J. found three general reasons for this conclusion. First, in balancing the constitutional right to counsel, Breyer concluded that the constitutionally protected right carried more weight against the government`s interest in ensuring that funds were available for fines and refunds. Secondly, plurality in other court decisions cannot find a precedent for an unbridled freezing of assets unrelated to the offence in question in the pre-trial proceedings. These precedents that did exist were, in Breyer`s view, limited by the fact that they were assets related to the alleged crime. Third, Justice Breyer pointed to what is commonly referred to in the legal world as a “slippery slope.” Judge Breyer argued that if they allowed the restriction of Luis` assets, Congress would likely pass more and more laws authorizing this type of restriction, limiting the ability of an increasing number of offenders to retain counsel of their choice and forcing more defendants to use public defense attorneys. Based on these factors, Judge Breyer ruled that Luis was in fact entitled to retain assets that had nothing to do with the crime for which she was charged in order to pay reasonable fees for her lawyer. The court overturned the lower court`s decision and sent the case back for a new hearing. Business lawyers will find it harder for the government to freeze assets in the early stages of litigation, particularly when assets are used to pay lawyers and when, in the age of sophisticated financial transactions, the government is tasked with clearly distinguishing between the tainted and pristine nature of fungible assets such as cash.
The court`s decision in Luis allows defendants who have substantial assets to use those assets to hire their chosen lawyer. It also makes it less likely that the government will request an asset freeze before trial, unless the tainted nature of the assets is relatively clear. It will also be interesting to see how States manage their confiscation programmes in light of this decision. Luis` case is now back in lower courts, where she will likely be allowed to use her “immaculate” funds to pay her (reasonable) legal fees. And more broadly, in similar cases, the federal government will no longer be able to freeze uncontaminated funds. However, it is not clear how big the impact of this decision will really be: after all, the government will still be able to freeze “contaminated” assets, and the Breyer opinion pointed out that courts can use tracing rules to distinguish between contaminated and uncontaminated assets when the two are mixed. The Court was split 5-3 in Luis, but not along traditional ideological lines. The court`s decision was written by Justice Breyer, who was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Ginsburg and Justice Sotomayor.
Justice Thomas accepted the decision, but for slightly different legal reasons. Justices Kennedy, Alito and Kagan disagreed. In Luis, two different dissenting opinions were expressed. Justice Kennedy, joined by Justice Alito, wrote the more detailed dissenting opinion of the two. Among the points raised by Justice Kennedy in his dissent, he noted that money is fungible and that the court`s decision would reward defendants who first spent the portion of their property related to their crimes and reserved their immaculate property for a lawyer. In his view, previous court decisions authorizing the freezing of an accused`s assets prior to trial were not strictly limited to contaminated assets. Given these previous decisions, Kennedy noted that defendants whose assets are frozen before trial can still keep a lawyer of their choice, though they would have to somehow get a loan or find a defense attorney willing to take on their case in the hope that the defendant would one day have the money to pay them.