asset forfeiture

Civil Forfeiture

Overview

Civil forfeiture occurs when the government seizes property under suspicion of its involvement in illegal activity. Such a proceeding is conducted in rem, or against the property itself, rather than in personam, or against the owner of the property; by contrast, criminal forfeiture is an in personam proceeding. For this reason, civil forfeiture case names often appear strange, such as United States v. Eight Rhodesian Stone Statues,

Kaley v. United States

Issues 

Do the Fifth and Sixth Amendments require a pretrial, adversarial hearing, at which the defendant may challenge the underlying charges before the government can freeze assets needed by the defendant to retain counsel of choice?

Kerri and Brian Kaley were indicted by a federal grand jury in 2007 for stealing prescription medical devices and selling them on the black market. Along with the indictment, the United States obtained an order to restrain assets traceable to the alleged crime. Because those assets were needed to retain the Kaleys’ counsel of choice, the Kaleys contested the order as violative of their Fifth Amendment right to due process and of their Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice. Those rights, the Kaleys argued, entitled them to a full pretrial, adversarial hearing at which to challenge the validity of the forfeiture. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Kaleys are entitled only to a hearing at which to challenge the assets’ traceability to the crime—not the underlying charges as well. The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case will impact not only the scope of pretrial asset restraint hearings, but also the ease with which the government may seize assets, as well as defendants’ ability to retain counsel of their choice.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

When a post-indictment, ex parte restraining order freezes assets needed by a criminal defendant to retain counsel of choice, do the Fifth and Sixth Amendments require a pre-trial, adversarial hearing at which the defendant may challenge the evidentiary support and legal theory of the underlying charges?

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