In America you're innocent until proven guilty. But the federal government can seize your assets before trial and prevent you from using them to hire the lawyer of your choice, even though the right to counsel is protected by the 6th Amendment. That's an injustice, and it was compounded this week by the Supreme Court.
In 2007, Kerri Kaley, a sales representative for a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, and her husband Brian were indicted on charges that they had participated in a scheme to resell medical devices allegedly stolen from hospitals; they maintained that the hospitals no longer had any use for the devices.
The couple wanted to pay a private lawyer using personal funds, including a certificate of deposit they had purchased using a home-equity line of credit. But a court froze many of their assets on the theory that they were related to the couple's supposed wrongdoing. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a judge should have taken a second look at the indictment, with an eye toward releasing the couple's assets if the evidence that they had committed a crime was questionable.
By a 6-3 vote, the justices said no. Writing for the majority, Justice
For example, judges can hold hearings after an indictment to determine whether assets seized by the government are traceable to the alleged crime. If that sort of second-guessing is permissible, why can't a judge review the grand jury's finding of probable cause — at least in the context of deciding whether a defendant may use his own money to pay for a lawyer? That would still leave the decision of guilt or innocence to a jury.