A Florida fraud case has resulted in a Supreme Court decision that is sure to affect countless criminal cases going forward: in a 5-3 decision, justices ruled that prosecutors cannot freeze assets of the accused if the assets are unrelated to the criminal charges filed against them.
The Luis v. United States decision concerns the case of Sila Luis, a Florida woman who allegedly billed Medicare $45 million in services that were either unneeded or didn’t exist. By the time she was arrested, that money had been spent.
Prosecutors, however, then moved to freeze $2 million of Ms. Luis’ assets that were unrelated to her charges. They wanted to use that money to satisfy fines and provide restitution for victims. Ms. Luis argued that she needed that money to hire defense counsel.
The Justices’ Writings
Ms. Luis’ assets dilemma has been presented to the high court before: in 1989, justices ruled on United States v. Monsanto and wrote that freezing assets was allowed– but only when there was probable cause that the assets were somehow linked to the criminal charges. In Luis v. United States, however, the majority of Justices explained that the constitutional right to counsel was a priority over the government’s interests in recovering money.
“Despite their importance, compared to the right to counsel of choice, these interests would seem to lie somewhat further from the heart of a fair, effective criminal justice system,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer. Justice Clarence Thomas essentially agreed, writing that the right to counsel is a constitutional guarantee and the means to acquire it is implied in that guarantee. Justice Clarence cited the writings of recently-deceased Justice Antonin Scalia several times.
This is an important case that has implications for countless defendants and is a big win for the defense.
As always, we stay on top of all the latest developments and fight hard for our clients. If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal act, then we invite you to contact Herman Law, P.A. today. Attorney Ron Herman is an award-winning West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer who has built his reputation on hard-hitting defense and securing favorable results—even in the face of the most serious of allegations.
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