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Criminal Procedure – forfeiture — pre-trial restraining orders

U.S. Supreme Court


Criminal Procedure – forfeiture — pre-trial restraining orders

When challenging the legality of a 21 U.S.C. 853(e)(1) pre-trial asset seizure, a criminal defendant who has been indicted is not constitutionally entitled to contest a grand jury’s determination of probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crimes charged.

In Monsanto, this Court held that the Government may seize assets before trial that a defendant intends to use to pay an attorney, so long as probable cause exists “to believe that the property will ultimately be proved forfeitable.” 491 U. S., at 615. The question whether indicted defendants like the Kaleys are constitutionally entitled to a judicial re-determination of the grand jury’s probable cause conclusion in a hearing to lift an asset restraint has a ready answer in the fundamental and historic commitment of the criminal justice system to entrust probable cause findings to a grand jury. A probable cause finding sufficient to initiate a prosecution for a serious crime is “conclusive[e],” Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U. S. 103, 117, n. 19, and, as a general matter, “a challenge to the reliability or competence of the evidence” supporting that finding “will not be heard,” United States v. Williams, 504 U. S. 36, 54. A grand jury’s probable cause finding may, on its own, effect a pre-trial restraint on a person’s liberty. Gerstein, 420 U. S., at 117, n. 19. The same result follows when it works to restrain a defendant’s property.    The Kaleys’ alternative rule would have strange and destructive consequences. Allowing a judge to decide anew what the grand jury has already determined could result in two inconsistent findings governing different aspects of one criminal proceeding, with the same judge who found probable cause lacking presiding over a trial premised on its existence. That legal dissonance could not but undermine the criminal justice system’s integrity, especially the grand jury’s constitutional role.

677 F. 3d 1316, affirmed and remanded.

12-464 Kaley v. U.S.

Kagan, J.; Roberts, C.J., dissenting.

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