Government revisits Civil Asset Forfeiture law

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A controversial law enforcement practice covered extensively by the I-Team may have received a boost from the federal government.

Civil Asset Forfeitures are up in Nevada, and United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed a policy that was put into place to limit further when police can seize money or assets they believe are related to criminal activity.

Potential abuses of the Civil Asset Forfeiture process has been documented in the silver state in recent years.  One roadside seizure case made it to the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco, which denied appeals by the federal government to keep money that was confiscated during what justices upheld as unconstitutional coordinated traffic stops along I-80 near Elko.

“Call Kevin and tell him we’ve got potentially 100-grand in here,” one deputy said. 

“This is such a setup. This is such a setup,” said Straughn Gorman.

Gorman was caught on video interacting with Elko County Sheriffs Deputies during a traffic stop less than an hour after the Nevada Highway Patrol stopped him.

A police K-9 alerted law enforcement to the possibility of drugs in Gorman’s RV. 

Deputy: “My dog alerted to your car.”
Gorman: “Did you make him do that?”
Deputy: “No, I did not make him do that.”

Deputies didn’t find any drugs, so Gorman wasn’t arrested.

“The federal government gets 20 percent, and the agency that seizes the asset gets 80 percent of the value, and in the case of cash, it’s 80 percent of the count,” Vincent Savarese, a partner at GCMAS. said.

Civil Asset Forfeiture allows police to take money or other property they suspect may be involved somehow, in a crime even if there is no proof a crime was committed.

Savarese, Straughn Gorman’s attorney, had this to say:

“Take the money and ask questions later is not in my opinion a legitimate law enforcement purpose,” Savarese said.

The Nevada Attorney General’s office is tasked with tracking proceeds from forfeitures by local and state agencies, which comes from yearly reports by every law enforcement agency statewide.

The most recent statewide tally for the fiscal year ending last June 30, is nearly $3.7 million in forfeitures. That’s up about 12 percent from the prior year.  However, specific to Clark County, forfeiture proceeds dropped nearly 16 percent, raking in nearly 2.2 million.

It’s essentially extra revenue, and police departments use that money for any number of uses, including purchasing equipment and other supplies.

Savarese considers that a red flag.

“My biggest gripe with the whole thing is that it encourages and results in a great many illegal searching and seizures,” Savarese said. 

Toward the end of the President Barack Obama’s administration, as more of these cases surfaced, the United States Attorney General at the time, Eric Holder, changed forfeiture policies, saying there must be proof of a connection between a seized asset and a crime.

Under the Trump administration, current Attorney General Sessions quickly began signaling a desire to roll back that policy. He made that policy change officially last summer, rolling back the laws to the way they were when these seizures were captured on camera four or five years ago.

“No one has to be convicted of a crime they just and the burden of the proof is on the claimant to prove that it’s not ultimately to prove that it’s not the proceeds are intended to be used for crime,” Savarese said.

8 News NOW will keep an eye on the next round of financial disclosures from law enforcement agencies at the end of June. to see if there are any new trends coming out of the data.

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