SCOTUS Rules No Freezing Substitute Assets

One of the many tools federal prosecutors use to prevent criminal defendants from trying to defend themselves is by freezing their assets.  Federal law is clear that assets gained from criminal enterprises can be frozen and defendants cannot use those assets to retain legal counsel.   Prior court rulings allowed Prosecutors to freeze other assets of a criminal defendants, assets not directly traceable to the alleged criminal conduct.  The effect was this often prevented many defendants from being able to retain the counsel of their choice.

Today in Luis v. United States the high court stated:

For the reasons stated, we conclude that the defendant in this case has a Sixth Amendment right to use her own “innocent” property to pay a reasonable fee for the assis­tance of counsel.

The USSC’s ruling, made by what can only be described as an oddly split court, noted that appointed counsel has limited time and funding.  Privately retained counsel has far more control over their case load and often has access to resources too expensive for public or community defender services.

The results in Luis is that the defendant, who has never been convicted, retains the right to pay the attorney of her choice with untainted funds, thereby preserving the constitutional guarantee to the right to counsel of one’s choosing.