The State of Nevada amended its civil asset forfeiture laws in 2015 to require law enforcement agencies to secure a conviction before performing property seizures. Now, in 2021, the state is in the process of passing more reform.
Assembly Bill 425 is seeking to change some of the state’s existing forfeiture procedures. Even though state law requires a conviction before a seizure, forfeiture is still performed as a separate civil action. This puts an additional burden on property owners to enlist an attorney for a civil suit after they complete the criminal proceedings.
Proponents of the bill say it will help average-to-low-income property owners who may not be affiliated with the criminal case implicating their property. Instead of hiring another attorney for a civil case, they argue, the forfeiture case should be tried together with the criminal case. That way, property owners won’t have to shoulder the extra burden.
During the hearing, supporters of the bill said there is a low threshold per individual; most forfeiture cases have a threshold of only $900. Property owners pay more than that amount for lawyers, so they often let their property be forfeited. The threshold may not seem like much on an individual basis, but it accumulates to significant revenue for state authorities. Law enforcement agencies currently keep all of the proceeds from forfeitures in Nevada.
Unsurprisingly, representatives of law enforcement agencies are against the bill. They argue it would give additional workload to the authorities if it is passed. To have forfeiture trials together with criminal lawsuits would allegedly create more work for law enforcement.
Another major point the opposition brought up is the potential loss of revenue for authorities. Police department representatives estimate the loss in funding would be about $500,000 annually. This is one of their main arguments to refute the bill. Authorities earn significant funding from forfeitures, so it is unsurprising that they are adamant on this particular point.
Opponents of the bill also argued for the crime-fighting aspect of forfeiture. They maintain asset forfeiture laws are in place to deter crimes, especially drug-related ones. The new bill would have a negative impact on their policing duties.
The bill has yet to pass the House. Amendments are expected before state legislators hold a vote to pass the final draft. Nevertheless, the step of conceiving a reform bill on asset forfeiture shows Nevada’s willingness to move from the past and into the future.
Civil asset forfeiture is a serious problem that often targets innocent individuals. Anyone who has had their property seized should immediately consult an experienced civil asset forfeiture attorney. Just because a government agency has forfeited your property does not mean they get to keep it.
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