Federal prosecutors can legally grab, with a judge’s nod, the assets of criminal defendants before trial. Tomorrow, says the Miami Herald, a Miami criminal defense attorney will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court that the tactic – long a powerful tool for prosecutors – violates the constitutional rights of defendants.With their assets frozen until a trial’s outcome, they’re effectively being stripped of the ability to hire the defense lawyer of their choice.
That is the thrust of Howard Srebnick’s argument. The ruling, in a South Florida white-collar criminal case, could affect countless federal prosecutions nationwide. Srebnick will argue that defendants should be allowed to keep bank accounts and other possessions unless prosecutors can show before trial that the evidence supporting an indictment justifies their seizure. For decades, prosecutors have needed only to cite a federal grand jury indictment to argue that defendants’ assets are traceable to the criminal allegations and therefore can be seized. Judges have almost always ruled in the prosecution’s favor because of the presumption that the grand jury found “probable cause” that a crime was committed.