The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in favor of Sila Luis, a home health owner accused of Medicare fraud, deciding it is unconstitutional to freeze her “untainted” assets before a trial.
Specifically, permitting the government to freeze a defendant’s “untainted” assets prior to trial violates a defendant’s right to a lawyer of his or her choosing under the Sixth Amendment, the court ruled in a 5-3 decision.
Luis was indicted on charges of committing Medicare fraud in 2012. Over a six-year period, the owner of Miami home health agencies allegedly received $45 million in fraudulent reimbursements.
The case before the Supreme Court, Luis v. United States, was seeking to determine whether the government can freeze assets not linked to the alleged crime, such as land, jewelry or cars obtained beforehand. The government had put a freeze on Luis’ untainted assets after her grand jury indictment, alleging she had already spent most of the $45 million she obtained fraudulently.
The Supreme Court previously ruled that the government can freeze property and money linked to criminal activity, or “tainted” assets, prior to a trial.
“We conclude that the defendant in this case has a Sixth Amendment right to use her own ‘innocent’ property to pay a reasonable fee for the assistance of counsel,” Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the plurality.
Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Anthony Kennedy disagreed with the ruling, which “rewards criminals who hurry to spend, conceal or launder stolen property by assuring them that they may use their own funds to pay for an attorney after they have dissipated the proceeds of their crime,” their dissent said.
Written by Mary Kate Nelson