US Supreme Court Considers Constitutionality of Asset Seizure by the Government

| by

People often talk about the criminal justice system and how it is set up to work for the American people and allow them a fair trial during which they can prove their innocence. In fact a person is even provided an attorney if he or she cannot afford one, as evidenced by the countless police dramas on television and in film. Yet, it’s not that simple.

For example Kerri and Brian Kaley have been accused of selling “stolen” medical devices and money laundering. As a result, their assets have been frozen by the government and they are unable to pay their legal fees and are unable to retain the counsel of their preferred lawyers. Lawyers they took out a mortgage on their home to afford (their line of credit was seized with the rest of their assets).

According to an article in the February issue of Reason, Kerri Kaley worked for a company that sold medical devices to hospitals in the New York area. She was allegedly asked by hospital employees to resell “overstocked or outmoded devices” and she and her husband sold them to a distributor in Miami. No one has reported anything “stolen,” but that didn’t stop the federal government from bringing criminal charges against them.

According to the article, the prosecutors’ motives are suspect because the government originally sought $2 million, but the total amount of proceeds from the sale of these extraneous devices was around $140,000. Thus, the government came back with the charge of money laundering and this enabled them to seize all of the Kaley’s assets.

Now, the decision is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court who heard arguments in October who are expected to issue a ruling soon. Based on the Fifth and Sixth Amendments—respectively the right to not have one’s property seized without due process and the right to legal counsel—the Kaley’s argument is that the government uses asset seizure to, as attorney Howard Srebnick put it, “beggar a defendant into submission.”