This year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Luis v. United States confirmed a criminal defendant’s right to use legally obtained funds to hire counsel of their choice. This decision comes 27 years after United States v. Monsanto, in which the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ability to “enter a pretrial order freezing assets in a defendant’s possession, even where the defendant seeks to use those assets to pay an attorney.” While this power to seize property before trial began during the heyday of the War on Drugs, the government has increasingly used this tool in white-collar prosecutions.
Generally, if the government can point to a legitimate reason for freezing an individual’s assets, that is good enough for courts. This usually entails a claim that the property must be preserved to guarantee payments of restitution and fines following a conviction. Many times, this asset freeze comes long before any indictment. This leaves individuals that are merely accused of a crime in financial uncertainty with little to no money to pay for their own defense.
Luis takes a look at a situation that defense attorneys have long argued against: preventing the criminally accused from using their money to pay for an attorney of their choosing. In the end, the Court’s decision proved to be a step forward in forfeiture reform.