Sunday, February 15, 2009

Charges Dropped Against Miami Defense Attorney

Another one of those pesky Amendments is the 6th.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

The Miami Herald reports on the dismissal of charges against a prominent Miami Attorney, Ben Kuehne. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke made this controversial ruling which has far-reaching ramifications for the 6th Amendment.

Kuehne, 54, was indicted earlier this year after vouching for a Colombian kingpin's legal payments to his defense attorney, Roy Black, in a major cocaine-trafficking case in 2001-03. The payments totaled $5.2 million.

Federal law makes it a crime for anyone to receive more than $10,000 from illegal activity such as drug trafficking. But Cooke ruled that a congressional exemption in the money-laundering statute for lawyers' legal fees applied to Kuehne, saying it was critical to a defendant's constitutional right to counsel.

What happened was, Roy Black, who is practically a household name in legal defense circles, was representing Ochoa, infamous narco-trafficker from Colombia. Black hired Kuehne to investigate the origin of the $5.2 million in legal fees from Ochoa. Kuehne was paid $200,000 for this service and reported the money clean. Ochoa was convicted and sentenced to 30 years, Kuehne was indicted for money laundering. Black, I suppose, received his fees and bought another yacht.

What does all this mean? We already knew that a poor black kid from Liberty City has very little chance of circumventing justice, but even guys like Ochoa go down. How's that work? I thought in America you can buy your way out of trouble like this?

What about Kuehne? He's no innocent. Even housewives in Des Moines know that the Ochoa family is in the cocaine business. How could that $5.2 million be considered clean? Is that a crime? Should it be a crime? Is limiting the amounts defense attorneys can easily receive to $10,000 an unfair restriction given the high legal fees?

What if Ochoa was found not guilty? That must happen sometimes, the top lawyers who receive huge legal fees, find ways to get their clients off the hook, clients who everyone knows are guilty. Would that make a difference? In a case like that, the drug kingpin gets off, the lawyers make money and the government wastes time and resources in a vain prosecution. Is that the price we pay to preserve that part of the 6th Amendment which promises counsel for the defense?

Do you think Judge Cooke made a good ruling in this case? Is this a case, as one commenter to the Miami herald article said, of rich judges protecting rich lawyers, and therefore a distortion of the true intent of the 6th Amendment?

What's your opinion?


  1. nice post


  2. I don't know the specifics of the law making it illegal to receive money from a criminal source--It sounds like a horrible law. The exemption for lawyer's fees is absolutely necessary for due process, unless the government is willing to limit its spending on prosecution to the same amount.

  3. I agree totally. The government has gone too far in trying to load the deck against alleged criminals who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Going after their lawyers is bad news for the whole fair and impartial thing.