SCOTUS to Consider |Assets Seizure Question

     (CN) – The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether the government is entitled to freeze all assets of a criminal defendant, even if some of those assets have no connection to the alleged crime and are needed by the accused to hire an attorney.
     The issue arises from a Medicare fraud case out of Miami. Fla.
     Sila Luis, president of two healthcare companies, was indicted in October 2012 on charges that she and others defrauded Medicare of $45 million over a six-year period.
     Prosecutors said Luis and her alleged co-conspirators paid bribes and provided kickbacks to prospective patients who agreed to sign up for home healthcare services they did not need or never received.
     On the day the indictment was handed down, prosecutors filed a civil complaint against Luis along with a motion asking a federal judge to immediately freeze all her assets up to $45 million.
     Luis’s attorneys argued that of the $45 million in Medicare payments at issue, their client only received $4.5 million, and that her companies generated more than $15 million in non-Medicare-related payments during the relevant period.
     Since Luis’s net worth was far less than that, her attorneys said, the freeze essentially left her broke.
     “By freezing even a defendant’s untainted assets before trial, the government not only cripples a defendant’s ability to retain private counsel, but also takes from her the funds she would otherwise invest in her defense for the best and most industrious investigators, experts, paralegals, and law clerks, to at least attempt to match the litigation support unavailable to the United States Attorney’s Office,” Luis’s lawyer said.
     But Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Huck disagreed, issuing the restraining order the government sought. She appealed to the 11th Circuit, but a three-judge panel upheld Huck’s decision.
     In Luis’s petition for a writ a certiorari, attorney Howard Srebnick argued that “the restraint of untainted assets needed to retain counsel poses a serious threat to the constitutional right of counsel of choice and the balance of forces in a criminal case.”
     He added, “a statute that dispossesses a presumptively innocent defendant of her untainted assets before trial … should be of great concern to this court.”
     In arguing for the justices not to take up the case, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said the high court has established that there is a strong governmental interest in obtaining full recovery of federal funds obtained through fraud.
     This interest, Verrilli said, “trumps ‘any Sixth Amendment interest in permitting criminals to use assets adjudged forfeitable to pay for their defense.'”
     As is their custom, the justices gave no explanation for their taking up the case.

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