Justices to take on new case over frozen assets

AP News
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Posted: Jun 08, 2015 9:45 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether the government can put a hold on untainted money and property that a criminal defendant needs to hire a lawyer.

The justices said that they will review the case of Sila Luis of Miami-Dade County, Florida, who has been indicted on fraud charges involving $45 million in allegedly improper Medicare payments. On the same day Luis was indicted in 2012, federal prosecutors froze her assets.

Luis said the freeze includes money with no ties to the charges against her and that she has a constitutional right to use the funds to hire a lawyer to mount a defense. Lower courts ruled against her.

The Supreme Court has previously upheld the government's ability to put a hold on property and money that can be tied to illegal activity. Last year, the justices ruled that defendants do not have a right to a hearing at which they can plead for access to their money.

The new case goes to whether untainted money can be frozen when the defendant needs it to hire a lawyer. The Justice Department said the assets can be frozen even if they are untainted. In this case, the government said it sought to freeze substitute assets that would be forfeited after a conviction because Luis already has spent the ill-gotten gains on luxury items and travel.

The case, Luis v. U.S, 14-419, will be argued in the fall.