According to the present legal code of the United States justice system, if an individual is charged with a crime that bears significant financial implications (such as conspiracy or embezzlement), the government is literally allowed to seize and withhold any and all assets deemed to be potentially related to the accused party’s pending criminal charges–regardless of whether or not any hearing has been held in order to prove the connection of such funds with any crimes.
The logic behind this policy is presumably that if a criminal has committed some sort of financial misdoing which resulted in an unlawfully-obtained fortune, he or she should not be allowed to use such ill-gotten funds to his own advantage in order to fight off the charges. The idea admittedly makes sense on paper, certainly, but has in practice taken on a life of its own, resulting in unthinkable sums of accumulated assets that have been seized by the state in order to cripple the ability of accused criminals to defend themselves from the government’s allegations against them. The entire process has transformed itself into a tremendous racket, beneficial only to the federal government, and has indeed served to be a rather profitable one, at that.
In fact, over $4.2 billion was deposited into the United States Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund as of September 30, 2012 (the end of the government’s spending year). Compared to the $1.6 billion in seized assets that had been accumulated within the fund in the two years prior to 2012, the rapid increase in frozen and confiscated finances starts to become a rather curious matter, indeed, for those who are paying attention to it.
As evidenced by the previously-mentioned Justice Department financial records, there has been a significant increase in the government’s willingness to seize the assets of defendants, and the ethically-questionable practice has unfortunately become more and more commonplace in modern-day court cases.
Rising to challenge this practice (as well as the potential for such a legal process to be abused by court officials) is Miami defense attorney Howard Srebnick. However, Srebnick’s attempt at doing so is neither the first, nor the last of its kind. The Florida attorney, who has undertaken the responsibility of providing legal defense for New York-based couple Kerri and Brian Kaley, is challenging the constitutionality of the very process itself, through which a defendant’s assets may be seized without even so much as a pretrial hearing taking place to defend the validity of the criminal allegations being raised against him or her.
Srebnick claims that such a policy of conduct violates the constitutionally-guaranteed due legal process by neglecting to prove that the accused party has any reasonable evidence of criminal misconduct against him or her. Also aiding his criticisms of the policy’s constitutionality is the argument that the seizure of assets prevents a defendant from having adequate access to the financial means necessary to afford for his or her preferred representative to provide legal counsel in court. Howard Srebnick and his clients are seeking to ensure that the courts henceforth require a pretrial hearing to establish the integrity of the criminal charges against an accused party, in order to prove that the seizure of his or her assets is both justifiable and necessary.
In the case of Srebnick’s clients, the Kaleys, the couple argues that the legal actions taken against them to confiscate both their home and their net assets (which totaled to $2.2 million) altogether were not only detrimental to their ability to properly defend themselves in court, but outright immoral to begin with. Charged with having illegally profited through South Florida’s “gray market” for medical equipment by re-selling medical devices which the Kaleys claim were rightfully given to them by hospitals that had upgraded to more modern equipment, the couple maintains their assertions of innocence. Prosecutors, however, are hardly as certain of the couple’s denial of illegal intent, and were able to seize the Kaleys’ assets and savings with virtually nothing in their way to stop them. Srebnick argues that such measures were unfair, and that the Kaleys’ constitutionally-guaranteed right to a fair trial was compromised by the financial disadvantage that was naturally forced upon them as a result of the complete and total confiscation of the couple’s entire net worth.
Unfortunately, the Kaleys are hardly alone in having fallen victim to such intimidating and ruthless tactics. Similar cases have been reported where accused defendants have been granted their right to invoke an attorney of their preference only in exchange for providing a guilty plea, or other similar sets of circumstances that ultimately victimize those who are being accused by the court and its prosecutors. In a statement which summarized his stance on the matter most effectively, Srebnick announced his aims in fighting the case for the Kaleys:
“I ask that this court not rule that the government can beggar a defendant into submission.”
However, the resulting outcome of the efforts of the Kaleys’ and their attorney to seek justice in such a corrupt system is at this point uncertain, at best. Dishearteningly, each of the 24 past attempts within the New York-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to establish the requirements for a pretrial hearing which would serve to validate the necessity of an asset seizure has failed. Even more troubling is the fact that Justice Antonin Scalia, a political player in this unfortunate saga, has stated that his position on the matter favors simply overturning the ability to enforce asset forfeiture before a conviction is delivered altogether, a move which would benefit others in future cases, but unfortunately still deny the Kaleys their request for a hearing to justify the confiscation of their wealth and property.
A verdict isn’t expected for several months, and the outcome remains unpredictable at present. The reality of the situation is clear, however: any government that has the ability to confiscate the entirety of an individual’s wealth on the grounds alone of an as-yet unproven accusation (thereby preventing that individual from being able to legally defend his or herself against such allegations) possesses the power to damn that individual on a very whim alone. Such a system of government is as far removed from justice as could possibly be conceivable, and is as closely associated with the plunder and enslavement wielded by the most tyrannical political regimes that history has ever known. No justice can be expected to be served through any actions of such an abusive organization, and as such, no consent deserves to be given to either those acting on its behalf, their edicts, or their threats.