In 2012, Sila Luis was charged with healthcare fraud. Before the trial even began, the government froze all of her assets, including $2 million of untainted funds to pay for future debt to the government related to the crime if she were to be convicted. Luis sought release of the untainted funds because they were necessary to pay for her attorney fees. She argued that by denying her access to these untainted funds, the government violated her Sixth Amendment right “to the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
The Supreme Court agreed with Luis. It stated that her fundamental right to hire a lawyer outweighed the government’s interest in guaranteeing that the defendant’s funds are available to pay restitution and fines to the government which may follow her criminal conviction. The Court said that allowing the government to seize innocent assets “would have no obvious stopping place” to allow defendants to hire counsel and therefore, was in violation of the Sixth Amendment.
Luis created an important “constitutional line” “between criminal defendant’s (1) tainted funds and (2) innocent funds needed to pay for counsel.” It prevented the government from freezing a defendant’s assets not linked to the crime and needed to retain legal counsel. Luis is a step in the direction for citizens’ rights. It limits the government’s overreaching pretrial seizure of assets and protects the defendant’s right to retain counsel.