US Supreme Court Diminishes Defendant Capacity to Engage Legal Counsel through Seizure of Funds

Legal Compliance Resource
March 12, 2014 — 942 views  

The case of Kaley v. United States has been stirring up much debate within the legal community, particularly because of the manner in which the U.S Supreme Court has looked towards the pre-trial seizure of funds. Recently, the Court has put into play stringent regulations that restrict the capacity of a defendant to challenge the grand jury's reasoning of probable cause. An understanding of probable cause underlies orders that a defendant's funds can be seized prior to the trial or hearing. The Supreme Court did however leave the defendant's rights to challenge whether the relevant seized funds can be traced back to assumed criminal conduct.

Karri and Brian Kaley had been indicted by the Supreme Court and charged with allegations of a conspiracy to steal and sell surplus medical devices. The couple learned of the jury's investigation prior to their indictment, immediately putting into play measures to hire legal counsel and mount a strong defence. They managed to pay legal fees by opening a $500,000 line of credit on their property, and purchasing a certificate of deposit.

However, upon the jury's determination of probable cause, a restraining order was issued thereby freezing the Kaleys' assets. The Government determined that the line of credit that had been issued was in fact only available to them as a consequence of criminal conduct, despite the fact that only $140,000 could be traced. Although the Kaleys did challenge the pre-trial seizure of assets, the Government issued the restraining order without even conducting a hearing.

The Kaleys took the matter to the US Court of Appeals but to no avail. Later, Justice Kagan, citing the case of United States v. Monsanto, came to determine that there was a large enough case for probable cause, stating that the funds used to secure legal counsel, were in fact proceeds from the couple's criminal activities. The majority also came to find that there was not enough to challenge the decision made by the grand jury.

The case of the Kaleys throws into sharp focus, the limited power of the defendant in securing experienced legal counsel when challenging criminal allegations. Chief Justice Roberts expressed his own opinion stating that the new regulation makes it increasingly difficult for criminal defendants to challenge Governmental allegations, while showing concern for the diminishing degree of fairness in  court proceedings. What has become extremely clear is that, criminal defendants must act proactively in order to secure legal counsel, before probable cause may be determined, and assets are seized.

Legal Compliance Resource