News Release ~ 11/07/1995

Court's Cursory Analysis in Libretti Waters Down Property Rights of Citizens Who Plead Guilty

Give Up Everything You Own -- Maybe You'll Get a Lighter Sentence

Washington, DC (November 7, 1995) -- "America depends on the preservation of fairness and constitutional protections for the guilty as well as the innocent. But apparently today's Supreme Court -- with the exception of Justice Stevens -- is untroubled about applying a watered-down standard to protect the property rights of defendants in criminal forfeitures," declared Robert Fogelnest, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), in reaction to today's Supreme Court decision in Libretti v. U.S.

The Court ruled that federal judges need not satisfy themselves that specific property given up by a defendant who pleads guilty is actually the proceeds or tools of the crime. The Court also held that judges are not required to advise defendants in such circumstances that they are waiving a right to have a jury decide whether the property may be forfeited.

"Without meaningful discussion or consideration of the constitutional arguments advanced by counsel, the Court glosses over the critical questions raised by this case," Fogelnest commented.

"It's 'anything goes' if you're guilty," he said. "As Justice Stevens points out in his common-sense dissent, 'it is not unthinkable that a wealthy defendant might bargain for a light sentence by voluntarily 'forfeiting' property to which the government had no statutory entitlement.' All of us -- innocent and guilty alike -- depend on courts to keep the government from taking from us more than it has a legal right to take," he warned.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 9,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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