Supreme Court hears argument on criminal evidence sharing, asset forfeiture

Supreme Court hears argument on criminal evidence sharing, asset forfeiture

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday heard argument in Turner v. United States and Honeycutt v. United States [SCOTUSblog backgrounders]. In Turner [argument transcript], the court heard argument on the Brady rule [LII backgrounder], a rule requiring that prosecutors provide a criminal defendant with all evidence that is favorable or material to his defense, even if the defendant does not ask for it. In this case, eight men, including Christopher Turner, were convicted of a murder that occurred in 1984, with their defense being what Justice Elena Kagan referred to as “circular firing squad” in which each defendant accused someone else. What defense attorneys had not been told at the time was that other witnesses had seen James McMillan, a man with a history of similar crimes, acting suspiciously at the scene. Prosecutors also failed to provide information on witness Carrie Eleby, who encouraged another witness to lie in support of Eleby’s story. Had the defense been given this information, they argue, the defense would have been based on an “alternative suspect” theory, and Eleby’s testimony would have been impeached.

In Honeycutt v. United States [argument transcript], the court heard argument on the law of asset forfeiture and whether a defendant, who did not receive assets from a crime, could be nonetheless forced to forfeit assets under 18 U.S.C. § 853(a) [text]. Terry Honeycutt worked for his brother at a hardware store, selling, among other things, a water-purifying product that can also used to make methamphetamine. The store made a profit of $270,000 on the sale, and when Terry and his brother were indicted for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, Terry’s brother forfeited $200,000 in a plea agreement. Terry was convicted at trial, and after sentencing, the US sought to obtain the remaining $70,000 from him. The statute in question requires forfeiture of “proceeds the person obtained” in violation of the law, a burden Terry argues was not met. The government did not argue otherwise, instead relying upon precedent that prosecutors can seize assets of co-conspirators regardless of what amount was directly attributable to them. Although not necessarily indicative of an outcome, the Justices were decidedly more wary [SCOTUSblog report] of the prosecution’s argument.