Civil Forfeitures in Nevada
Is the government taking your property? Read here for information to fight them.
Did you know that your property can be seized you are arrested for, charged with a crime, or convicted of a crime? Do you know that the government can seize and keep your property without even arresting or charging you with a crime? Yes, this is perfectly legal.
Under NRS 179.1205, the Nevada Office of the Attorney General (AG) is required to collect and publish annual reports from all law enforcement agencies in the State regarding their seizures and forfeitures. The information must include the dates of seizure and forfeiture, the market value, and how the proceeds will be used. According to the latest AG report for the fiscal period from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, the total value to all property seized by local law enforcement in Nevada was $3,596,173.93.
Those millions of dollars may decrease in the future. In the landmark case of Timbs v. Indiana, the United States Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, found that the 8th Amendment prohibition against “excessive fines” applied to the state and local governments via the Fourteenth Amendment. In fact, the Court found that the prohibition against excessive fines was a fundamental right. This finding is extraordinary. Fundamental rights incorporate those rights you regularly hear and discuss. Fundamental rights include the right to due process freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly, and the right to marry.
In that case, Mr. Tyson used $42,000 from a life insurance payment paid from the death of his father to purchase a Land Rover car. Mr. Timbs later plead guilty to one count of dealing in controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to commit theft. Mr. Tyson was thereafter sentenced to house arrest, five years of probation, and drug treatment counseling. He was also ordered to pay fees and costs totaling $1,203. The State then sought to forfeit the car, arguing that it was used in the commission of the crime to transport heroin.
In finding that the forfeiture of a $42,000 vehicle was excessive in proportion to his crime, the court noted that the value of the vehicle was over four times the maximum fine allowed under the law, which was $10,000.
Now, local governments must demonstrate that the forfeiture is proportional to the alleged offense.
Assembly Bill 420 was introduced which seeks to modify the existing forfeiture laws to require a conviction before forfeiture and directs that the proceeds go to the State Permanent School Fund. Currently, the law allows the enforcement agency that seized the property to keep it.
Proponents of the bill argue these modifications will end the so-called “policing for profit.” This law appears to be a step in the right direction. In 2015, the Institute for Justice gave Nevada a D+ rating in the use of its civil forfeiture laws, finding that:
- A higher bar to forfeit property and conviction was required;
- There were poor protections for innocent third-party property owners; and
- As much as 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.
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