Time for Nevada lawmakers to put a stop to civil asset forfeitures

The whole concept of civil asset forfeiture turns the law on its head, essentially finding people guilty until they can prove their innocence.

Police departments and federal agencies across the country have been using civil procedures to seize cash, cars and homes that just might be somehow, maybe linked to a crime.

In Philadelphia a family’s $350,000 home was seized because police suspected their son was dealing drugs, for example.

In Humboldt County here in Nevada a county deputy seized $50,000 from a California tourist who said he’d won it at a casino, because he thought he might be a drug dealer.

Humboldt County deputy seized tourist’s cash.

According to a recording from a dashboard-mounted camera in the patrol car, the tourist asked why he was being searched, and the deputy replied, “Because I’m talking to you … well, no, I don’t have to explain that to you. I’m not going to explain that to you, but I am gonna put my drug dog on that. If my dog alerts, I’m seizing the money. You can try to get it back but you’re not.”

He also told the tourist, “You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you.”

Never mind that most cash these days have traces of drugs on it.

The tourist sued and eventually got his cash back.

In another Nevada case, the U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas demanded a local woman forfeit the $76,667 in salary she earned while running the office of her brother, who was later convicted of mortgage fraud.

U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt called the federal forfeiture effort against Jenna Depue “the most egregious miscarriage of justice I have experienced in more than twenty years on the bench. I refuse to be a party to it.”

Imagine working for someone for 20 years performing perfectly legal duties such as sweeping the floors only to have your boss convicted of a crime and learn the federal prosecutors are demanding you forfeit your life savings because those earnings were the issue of a criminal act.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder finally saw the light and put a stop to letting local law enforcement agencies use the federal Equitable Sharing program, under which police used federal law to seize property and then get to keep 80 percent of the value of what was seized.

Recently, New Mexico lawmakers passed a bill essentially ending most civil asset forfeitures in that state until someone is convicted of a crime. It also would not let police agencies keep the proceeds of a seizure and instead channels it into the state general fund, thus ending an incentive for police to use seizures to raise money.

In Carson City, Republican state Sens. Don Gustavson of Sparks and James Settelmeyer of Minden have sponsored Senate Bill 138, which is similar to the one in New Mexico. It also requires a conviction prior to seizure and states that any money left over after expenses are covered goes to the general fund. The bill also mandates annual reports to the state on civil forfeitures.

The Fifth Amendment provides that “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” But too often police intimidate people by basically extorting waivers of due process rights.

In case of the tourist in Humboldt, he was threatened with having his car impounded, too.

The Institute for Justice has been fighting civil asset forfeiture in the courts and on op-ed pages of newspapers for years. President and General Counsel Chip Mellor of IJ once said:  “The Institute for Justice has documented time and again that civil forfeiture invites a lack of accountability, a lack of due process and a lack of restraints on government authority. Civil forfeiture needs to end. If the government wants to take someone’s property, it should first be required to convict that person of a crime.”

Former Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial page editor John Kerr, now a communications fellow with IJ, penned one of those op-eds for the Las Vegas paper recently. He wrote:

“Many law enforcement officials defend the current forfeiture laws as an effective and valuable tool in the fight against crime. But the Bill of Rights wasn’t enshrined in the Constitution for the purpose of empowering the government over its citizens — quite the opposite. Laws that allow police to seize cash, jewelry, homes and other valuables solely on the hunch of illegal conduct mock the principles that enrich and define a free society — such as liberty, justice and property rights — if not paired with meaningful judicial review in which the state must prove both the suspect’s guilt and a link between crime and the property.”

In a 73-page article published in the Nevada Law Journal, David Pimentel, a law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, laid out the case against civil forfeiture. Here is an excerpt:

“Given the dubious policies behind facilitating property forfeitures, and the due process problems inherent in carrying them out, the more potent question is whether facilitating property forfeitures should be allowed at all. If the taking of such property is to be justified, or even tolerated, it must be for the most compelling public policy purposes, none of which can be demonstrated for facilitating property forfeitures.”

Let’s hope SB138 breezes through the legislative process and becomes law.

Dashcam video of cash seizure:

Advertisements

18 comments on “Time for Nevada lawmakers to put a stop to civil asset forfeitures

  1. Rincon says:

    This is what makes people hate government. The originators and politicians that voted for the civil forfeiture laws should be publicly shamed..

  2. nyp says:

    Figures that the only law enforcement abuse that bothers you involves property and not people.

  3. People own property.

  4. Rez says:

    What to do if you are stopped (this applies to any sort of stop where you may be searched)

    http://fairdui.org/

    Also, memorize and cite this Federal statute number:

    U.S. Code Title 18, Section 241 and 241.

    This covers “theft under color of law” — which means specifically someone abusing their uniformed power to seize your property. Federal marshals take a dim view of violations.

    http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/federal-statutes

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/241
    If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; or
    If two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured—
    They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/242
    Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

  5. nyp says:

    People get beat up, shot, thrown into jail, racially profiled, etc.

    But what really matters, I suppose is that people might lose their cars if they are carrying around pot.

  6. A.D. Hopkins says:

    Civil forfeiture is an evil dignified by incorporation into law. Policemen trained to enforce laws whether they personally see the sense in them or not, are even less likely to question one which actually serves their interests, as this one does. The most important part of the proposed change is probably the one that says any seizures which will still be legal after the change must benefit the state general fund and not the department making the seizure.

  7. The smirk and attitude of the Humboldt County Deputy is disgraceful…as he violates numerous civil rights…he is in dire need of retraining and an attitude adjustment. This is an abysmal overreach of law enforcement authority. I concur…this needs to be stopped, now!

  8. Winston Smith says:

    War on Poverty
    War on Drugs
    War on Terrorism

    All are wars on our freedoms, justified by the powers that be…

    Does DARPA care about that?

  9. Steve says:

    On a very similar note:
    A recent RJ article told us about the Nevada Supreme court being underfunded (despite the new Appellate court getting ready to take away a bunch their workload…) The reason for being underfunded was police around the state are not writing enough speeding tickets!
    Turns out the Nevada Supreme court is funded, in significant part, by speeding (and other) fines from citations given out by police.

    Now…we have always been told there are no “quotas” but, according to that article, there was a “policy” shift in police departments. They are concentrating on driving behavior that is likely to cause crashes and/or injuries. (Should’a been this way all along…YA think?)

    Perhaps ALL citation moneys should go to general funds and funding for LE and the Judiciary be decided by the legislature.

  10. Rincon says:

    No perhaps about it Steve. Yours is the best way to avoid a conflict of interest.

  11. Patrick says:

    For the legislature to decide funding levels for another branch of government couldn’t possibly create any problems.

  12. Rincon says:

    It certainly could. Is there a better way?

  13. Patrick says:

    Well, with the exception of the current outlier, it seems to have functioned well the way it is. I don’t think allowing the branch whose rules are being evaluated for Constitutional validity, to decide how much the people doing the evaluating ought to receive for doing the evaluating, is “better” in any respect.

  14. Steve says:

    Is it a good idea to fund the courts with the revenue of speeding tickets?

  15. A.D. Hopkins says:

    I thought one branch funding another branch was the common arrangement, and one of the much-honored “checks and balances” of the federal system.

  16. bc says:

    nyp, you bring up profiling, brutality and shooting and say nobody cares about that, only property. I say that these are all part of the same problem. When the training given to officers and the management that encourages legalized theft in this case of Humboldt County or with the LVMP and other departments that train their officers that if a suspect is the wrong color he is bad or if the suspect flinches he is a threat so shoot him. The profiling and beating are more extreme with killing of suspects that flinch the most extreme, but we as a society will not solve one of these issues without solving the others as they are the same issue.

  17. nyp says:

    Perhaps you are right.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s