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Criminal cases allow property seizure

In Nevada, criminal defense representation helps assure that an accused individual receives due process while facing the possibility of incarceration. However, defendants and even law-abiding citizens may also face other serious consequences such as government seizure of their property.

Currently, property may be forfeited when the police believes it is linked to a crime in a civil proceeding with less due process protection. For example, they may seize cash associated with a drug deal or a vehicle that was used in the commission of a crime. Police say that anyone who had their property seized may utilize civil process to reclaim that property.

In fiscal year 2016, Nevada law enforcement agencies seized property valued at $3.27 million throughout the state. Most of this forfeited property was cash, but it also included vehicles and jewelry.

However, this forfeiture system has been criticized as allowing innocent people to lose property. In one case shown in a CNN report, a county sheriff seized approximately $50,000 although no criminal charges were ever filed. The victim had to hire an attorney to have this money returned.

Sen. Don Gustavson introduced Senate Bill 358 that would place forfeiture proceedings into the criminal legal case associated with the underlying criminal charge. If passed, the measure would allow forfeiture only if there was a criminal conviction, a plea agreement, or an agreement between law enforcement and the individual. If the bill were to pass, a person with seized property would have the right to a pre-trial hearing to fight the property's seizure.

The Institution for Justice, a law firm specializing in constitutional rights and limited government, supports this type of law, as it helps assure that acquitted defendants do not lose their property. This proposal is like measures adopted by other states, including New Mexico and Nebraska.

As property seizure demonstrates, a criminal charge may have unanticipated and long-term consequences. With this in mind, those facing criminal charges may want to consider seeking legal representation to help assure that their rights are protected and that legal procedures are followed.

Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Nevada lawmaker wants change in civil forfeiture rules," By Ben Botkin, March 31, 2017

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