In Minnesota, there are two types of pre-trial asset restraints and these include civil asset forfeiture and criminal asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture occurs when the government takes assets from the owner after providing some sort of notice about the impending action. In these cases, no conviction or criminal charge is necessary. In criminal asset cases, the government can seize property from a person before a trial if the owner has committed a crime.
Asset restraint requirements
Minnesota law states that when property is restrained before a trial, the law enforcement official collecting the property must leave a receipt with the person currently in possession of the property or at the site where the assets were found. In order to get the property back, the owner can provide the government agency with a bond that equals the amount of the property’s retail value. However, this option is not available if the restrained assets are contraband or being used for investigatory purposes.
Under Minnesota law, a court can restrain certain property if it is associated with a “designated offense.” These offenses include property felonies, crimes against other people and crimes committed using unauthorized computer access. Assets are subject to restraint before trial if:
- The property was used to either commit or facilitate a crime
- They were acquired while committing the offense
- They are weapons that were used during the criminal action
Additionally, property can only be restrained if there is established proof of a criminal accusation.
Recent Supreme Court decision
In February of 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants whose assets are frozen before a trial are not entitled to a hearing to challenge the claim that they committed a crime. This conclusion was the result of a vote by the Supreme Court against a Florida couple that stole medical devices and sold them for profit. After the couple’s crimes were discovered, the court froze their assets, including the $500,000 they intended to use for legal defense. Justices John Roberts, Stephen Breyer and Sonya Sotomayer voted against this ruling on the basis that freezing the couple’s assets would prevent them from hiring the lawyers they wanted.
This particular case did not address whether or not a defendant has the right to argue that the frozen assets were not connected to the alleged crime. Lower courts have already determined that a defendant is entitled to a hearing to discuss this subject. Criminal defendants, who want to contest that their frozen assets were not linked to the crime they are accused of committing, should work closely with an attorney in order to develop a strong defense.