The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution states:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”
Does it say anywhere in the Sixth Amendment that a person’s personal assets are protected from being frozen upon being charged with a crime? I’ve read a variety of interpretations of the Sixth Amendment posted by different law schools and legal sites and none of them say anything about whether or not the Sixth Amendment protects a person’s assets from being frozen prior to trial.
However, the case of Luis v. United States has brought this question to the US Supreme Court. In 2012, Sila Luis was indicted for defrauding Medicare for as much as $40 million. Prior to the trial, federal prosecutors ordered all of Luis’ assets frozen. Federal investigators had identified ‘tainted’ assets linked to the crime but they also identified about $15 million of assets that had no connection to the fraud case and deemed as ‘clean’ money, but these assets were also frozen.
Luis and his attorneys argued that the clean assets were protected under the 6th Amendment as he needed them to pay for his legal defense. The federal government disagreed that they were protected under the 6th Amendment and were able to keep the assets frozen.
Part of the argument used by attorneys for the federal government was the 1989 case of US v. Monsanto in which the courts ruled that federal prosecutors could freeze assets that were connected to criminal activity. Luis’s attorney argued before the Supreme Court this week that the Monsanto case only allowed the government to freeze assets connected to the criminal activity and that does not give them the right to freeze assets that were deemed cleaned with no connection to the fraud case. Then they are invoking the 6th Amendment right to a fair trial by saying that Luis needs the clean assets to pay for his legal defense and therefore should not be frozen by the feds.
There is an underlying motive for the federal prosecutors to freeze the clean assets as they anticipate a guilty ruling that will then allow them to seize all assets in order to pay restitution for the fraud. However, the federal attorneys don’t dare say that in front of the Supreme Court even though everyone knows that is part of the real reason for freezing the clean assets.
So the question before the Supreme Court is whether or not the 6th Amendment protects a defendant’s clean assets to be used for legal defenses or if the government has still has the right to freeze them even though they have no connection to the crime. Some legal experts believe that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the federal prosecutors that it could undermine the authority of the 6th Amendment and a person’s rights to a speedy and fair trial and to be able to mount a proper defense.