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U.S. Supreme Court Limits Government’s Power to Freeze Assets

On March 30, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-3 decision in a case called Luis v. United States. In this opinion, the Court limited the federal government’s power to seize certain assets of an individual who has been accused of fraud, based on the individual’s Sixth Amendment right to pay a reasonable fee for the assistance of counsel. This case is a victory for those of us who believe strongly in the importance of the right to counsel and constitutional rights in general. Civil forfeiture actions tend to accompany many criminal actions, particularly on the federal level, and this decision limits the ability of the government to do so, at least in some cases.

Luis v. United States – The Facts

In 2012, a federal grand jury in Florida indicted Luis on several Medicare fraud charges, alleging that she had paid kickbacks for patient referrals to her home health care businesses in a conspiracy to defraud Medicare. The U.S. also filed a separate civil forfeiture action to restrain Luis from using some $45 million worth of assets, including some assets that were not traceable to the criminal charges against her, under a federal law that contains very broad language about the government’s ability to seize assets. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida allowed the U.S. to freeze all of the assets, despite Luis’ claim that she needed funds to hire a defense attorney, and, therefore, freezing her assets violated her Sixth Amendment right to be represented by an attorney of her choosing. Luis appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit agreed with the District Court.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

Luis and several other organizations, including the American Bar Association, argued that restraining her from using her “untainted” funds – or those that were not involved in the alleged Medicare fraud scheme – to hire an attorney of her choice violated her Sixth Amendment rights. The government, on the other hand, argued that its interest in recovering all forfeitable assets overrides Luis’s interests in being able to hire an attorney. Allowing Luis to use the untainted funds would be an unjust reward for her criminal behavior. However, the Supreme Court disagreed. Since the funds were not connected to the alleged crimes, Luis had a constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment to use those funds to hire an attorney of her choice.

Contact Salazar & Kelly Law Group, P.A., Today

Federal criminal offenses can have extremely severe consequences under Florida law, and a conviction for such an offense can cloud your criminal history indefinitely. If you or a loved one is facing a federal criminal offense, or any other type of crime, you need to contact the Kissimmee federal defense lawyers of Salazar & Kelly Law Group, P.A., right away. We are here to protect your rights if you are accused of a federal crime or any criminal offense, but you’ll need to contact us immediately for help. Call us today or contact us by filling out our online form.

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