High court: Gov’t can’t hold assets unrelated to crimes

Associated Press

Washington — The Supreme Court says the government can’t freeze the financial assets of people accused of crimes if the money has no connection to criminal activity and is needed to pay legal defense costs.

The justices ruled 5-3 on Wednesday that federal prosecutors violated the constitutional rights of a Miami woman accused of Medicare fraud. The prosecutors had put a hold on more than $40 million in assets that included money unrelated to the criminal charges.

Sila Luis argued that the forfeiture prevented her from hiring the defense attorney of her choice with “untainted” money.

The court agreed that the government’s action undermined Luis’ Sixth Amendment right to use “innocent” property to pay for a defense lawyer.