Jacob Sullum

The money laundering charge seemed implausible given the clear and detailed financial records kept by the Miami medical device distributor and the Kaleys' accountant. In short, the Kaleys are accused of laundering money they made no attempt to hide after stealing merchandise from owners who evidently were happy to be rid of it.

Given the nature of these offenses, it's not surprising that the only Ethicon sales representative who has been tried so far (who was able to hire the lawyers she wanted because her assets were not frozen) was acquitted after fewer than three hours of deliberation. Two other sales representatives pleaded guilty and received sentences of five and six months, respectively, although the judges in both cases wondered aloud who the victims were.

The Kaleys are not ready to throw in the towel. They want their day in court with the counsel of their choice. Toward that end, they argue that the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the right to counsel, and the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of property without due process, require that they have an opportunity to challenge the legal basis of the proposed forfeiture before they go to trial.

An adversarial hearing is especially important in this situation because prosecutors have a financial stake in forfeitures, which help fund their budgets. Given the weakness of the case against the Kaleys, it's not clear who is guilty of theft here: the defendants or the government.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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