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Posted on April 20, 2016 in Divorce,Family Law,Firm News

san diego family law attorneyA person’s right to be represented by a San Diego family attorney should be viewed as fundamental. The Supreme Court of the United States just recently released a new opinion highlighting the importance of a criminal defendant’s right to choose counsel. In Luis v. United States (2016) 578 U.S. ___.  The United States Supreme Court was asked if the pretrial restraint by a court of a criminal defendant’s legitimate, untainted assets needed to retain counsel, violated the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. The Supreme Court answered, “Yes,” reasoning that the “nature and importance of the constitutional right taken together with the nature of the assets lead us to this conclusion.”

In Luis v. United States, the trial court froze Ms. Luis’ assets under a federal statute authorizing it to do so, in order to preserve $2 million in Ms. Luis’ possession for restitution and other criminal penalties. The $2 million was not related to Ms. Luis’ alleged crimes, and was “legitimate” and “untainted” in the sense that it belonged to Ms. Luis.

However, The United States Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to be represented by counsel. In describing the “nature and importance of the constitutional right” of a criminal defendant to retain counsel of choice, the Supreme Court uses the term “fundamental[1].” The United States Supreme Court has further interpreted the Sixth Amendment to mean that a criminal defendant must be given “a fair opportunity to secure counsel of his own choice.” (Powell v. Alabama (1932) 287 U.S. 45, 53.)

You can see how important the right of a criminal defendant to retain counsel is based on the Supreme Court’s decision. Although the pretrial seizure of assets is authorized under Federal law and serves an important governmental purpose in certain situations, the importance of that seizure is trumped by the importance of a criminal defendant’s right to counsel, to choose that counsel, and to be able to pay that counsel with their untainted assets. The seizure of untainted assets unconstitutionally limited Ms. Luis’ ability to secure counsel of her own choice.

Although Luis v. United States deals strictly with criminal proceedings and the Sixth Amendment, the assistance of counsel in any legal context cannot be understated. Scott & Matteson Family Law, CFLS, is a veteran San Diego divorce lawyer and Certified Family Law Specialist. Mr. Scott has been practicing in San Diego County since 1981. Please contact our office at 858-974-4900 to make a consultation appointment with Mr. Scott.

[1] Black’s Law Dictionary defines fundamental rights as those that are “A significant component of liberty, encroachments of which are rigorously tested by courts to ascertain the soundness of purported governmental justifications.” Some common fundamental rights include things like the Bill of Rights, the right to marry, the right to parent one’s children, the right to privacy, and the right to interstate travel.