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Assets Can't Be Frozen If Not Tied to a Crime, Supreme Court Says

Late last month, the Supreme Court battled it out over the legality of the government freezing money unconnected to a crime. Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the case was a simple one, that the government can confiscate "a robber's loot, a drug seller's cocaine, a burglar's tools, or other property associated with the planning, implementing, or concealing of a crime." However, there is one thing it cannot do and it is this: freeze money or other assets unconnected to the crime.

Florida case goes to Supreme Court

In a 5-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Florida resident Sila Luis, who was charged with committing Medicare fraud totaling over $45 million. After being charged, a judge froze $2 million in assets belonging to Luis, which she said left her unable to hire a criminal defense attorney. The assets were legally obtained, and not connected to the alleged fraud.

Right to council

The high court ruled that Ms. Luis' 6th amendment right to council had been violated by the judge's order to freeze her assets. Lawmakers continue to have the right to freeze assets if there is a reasonable assumption that they are linked to a crime, but in Luis' case, it was ruled, there was no such evidence.

Justices were divided

In the decision, the dissenting opinion argued that the ones who benefit from this ruling are criminals who spend their ill-gotten gains before they come before the law, or who are more skilled at hiding assets. But majority opinion held that the right to counsel was a fundamental one, whereas recovering criminal assets for purposes of redistribution or other is a secondary and separate issue.

If you have been accused of a crime, an experienced criminal defense attorney can make sure that your rights are protected throughout all legal proceedings, and that you receive fair treatment in accordance with the prevailing laws.


Liptak, Adam. "Supreme Court Rules Against Freezing Assets Not Tied To Crimes." The New York Times, 30 Mar. 2016. Web. 09 Apr. 2016. <>.

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