Kaley v. United States

PETITIONER:Kerri L. Kaley and Brian P. Kaley
RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida

DOCKET NO.: 12-464
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)

CITATION: 571 US (2014)
GRANTED: Mar 18, 2013
ARGUED: Oct 16, 2013
DECIDED: Feb 25, 2014

Howard Srebnick – for the petitioner
Michael R. Dreeben – Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent

Facts of the case

In 2005, a grand jury began investigating Kerri Kaley and her husband Brian Kaley for stealing prescription medical devices from hospitals. In February 2007, the grand jury indicted the Kaleys on seven criminal counts. One of these counts was a criminal forfeiture count, which would require the Kaleys to forfeit all property that could be traced to their offenses. This property included a certificate of deposit for $500,000, which the Kaleys intended to use to pay their defense attorneys.

Following the indictment, the district court issued a protective order preventing the Kaleys from transferring or disposing of any property in the forfeiture count. The Kaleys moved to vacate the order because it prevented them from hiring their attorneys in violation of their right to counsel protected by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The district court denied their motion without granting a pretrial evidentiary hearing. The Kaleys appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which reversed and remanded.

On remand, the district court granted a pretrial hearing, but limited it to the question of whether the property in the forfeiture count was traceable to the Kaleys’ offenses. When the Kaleys failed to present evidence regarding traceability, the district court refused to vacate the protective order. The Kaleys appealed again, arguing that they should have been allowed to challenge the validity of the indictment in the pretrial hearing. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the lower court’s decision.


Do the Fifth and Sixth Amendments require a district court to allow a criminal defendant to challenge the evidence behind her charges in a pretrial hearing when a protective order freezes the assets necessary for the defendant to hire her attorney?

Media for Kaley v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 16, 2013 in Kaley v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 25, 2014 in Kaley v. United States

Justice Kagan has our opinion this morning in case 12-464, Kaley v. United States.

If a person is convicted of a serious crime, federal law often requires her to forfeit assets that are proceeds of the crime or that were used in its commission.

And to ensure that a defendant does not spend those forfeitable assets while a case is pending, the law also empowers the Government to freeze those assets before trial.

In a case called United States v. Monsanto, we said that that kind of pretrial asset freeze was constitutional as long as it was supported by probable cause.

And we said that that was true even when the defendant wanted to use the assets to pay for a lawyer.

The petitioners in this case Kerri and Brian Kaley were indicted for selling stolen goods.

Under the law I just described, a court froze a certificate of deposit they held which they’d like to use to pay for a lawyer.

The Kaleys say that freeze is improper because there is no probable cause to think that they committed the crimes with which they were charged.

And they say — and this is the issue here that they’re entitled to adversarial hearing before a judge to litigate whether there is probable cause.

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed and we now affirm that ruling.

We hold that the Kaleys have no constitutional right to a hearing on whether there is probable cause to think they committed a crime.

And that’s primarily because a grand jury already decided exactly that question when it indicted the Kaleys.

What the Kaleys wanted to argue is that grand jury got it wrong.

In essence, they want the grand jury not to have the last word as to whether there is probable cause to support the indictment.

But we have long recognized the grand juries have an exclusive role as to that issue.

We’ve explained that an indictment returned by a grand jury conclusively determines the existence of probable cause to believe a defendant committed the crime alleged.

And accordingly we’ve said that grand jury findings are basically unreviewable.

For example, defendants can’t argue that the evidence the grand jury considered was too weak or that the prosecution failed to bring exculpatory evidence to the grand jury’s attention.

And that so, even though of course grand jury findings have serious consequences.

An indictment forces the defendant to stand trial and it may lead immediately to her arrest.

The same logic controls here.

If the relevant legal standard is probable cause as our decision in Monsanto held, then we’re on the grand jury’s turf.

If the Kaleys had their way, judges would review grand jury’s findings and precisely the way as we forbidden and in fact, those inquiries could produce inconsistent rulings within the course of a single trial.

The Kaleys argued that rather than respect the grand jury’s traditional role in this way, we should apply a balancing test established in case called Mathews v. Eldridge to decide whether they’re entitled to adversarial hearing on probable cause.

There’s a substantial question as to whether the Mathews test applies at all in criminal cases.

But we don’t have to answer that question because the Kaleys argument fails under the Mathews approach too.

Both parties have substantial interests at stake and we’re particularly aware of the Kaleys constitutional right to counsel of choice.

But the Mathews test requires us to consider whether the kind of hearing the Kaleys want would actually correct any grand jury errors.

In other words, we have to think about how likely it is that a court after a hearing would overturn a grand jury’s finding.

And our answer is not likely at all.

Probable cause is a low bar and even if defendants can poke holes in a case, it’s highly improbable that they could reverse the grand jury’s finding.

Real world evidence bares that out in all the jurisdictions that currently require the kind of hearing the Kaleys want.

No one has found a single case in which a judge actually overturned a grand jury’s probable cause determination.

Under the Mathews test, that precludes holding that the Kaleys are constitutionally entitled to an adversarial hearing.

The decision below is affirmed.

The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Breyer and Sotomayor joined.