Nevada "Asset Forfeiture" Laws
(Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Lawyers)

Nevada law requires some people to forfeit assets that have either:

  • been used to carry out a Nevada felony, or
  • been derived from the proceeds of the felony

People who were honestly unaware of any criminal activity should be allowed to hold on to their land, money, and things that were used in a crime. But people who were "willfully blind" to the criminal activity may still be forced into asset forfeiture.

Police generally have to obtain a magistrate judge's permission in order to seize assets. If the police may have performed an unlawful search and seizure in Nevada, then it may be possible to get the property back.

In this article, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys discuss the following asset forfeiture topics:

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People may have to surrender their property that is connected to felonious activity in Nevada.

1. Legal definition of asset forfeiture in Nevada

Asset forfeiture is when people give up ("forfeit") their ownership rights to property that has ties to criminal activity. Assets that are vulnerable to forfeiture have either:

  • been used to carry out a felony, or
  • been bought from the proceeds of felony activity1

Henderson criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example:

Example: Rick uses his car to transport meth, which is a felony. He later bought a Rolex from the proceeds of his Nevada drug trafficking crimes. If the police discover Rick's drug activities, he may be forced to give up his car because it was used in the commission of drug trafficking. He may also be forced to give up his Rolex because it was obtained with the proceeds of drug trafficking.

Any type of property is subject to forfeiture in Nevada, including:

  • Land and structures (real property);
  • Fixtures or improvements to real property;
  • Personal property, or interests in personal property;
  • Vehicles, boats, planes, and other conveyances;
  • Money, securities, or negotiable instruments; and
  • Proceeds2

The purpose of asset forfeiture is both to punish the property owners for their crimes as well as to remove the "tools" of their criminal activity from society. Forfeited property becomes the property of the police department that seized it.3

2. Nevada crimes that make assets subject to forfeiture

Asset forfeiture commonly occurs in felony cases involving:

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Asset forfeiture often occurs in cases involving racketeering, gangs, and drug or gambling rings.

Police generally do not try to seize assets used in Nevada misdemeanor offenses. For example, if a person steals a stick of gum from a convenience store and drives away, the thief should not have to forfeit the car because petty larceny in Nevada is a minor crime.

3. Exceptions to asset forfeiture in Nevada and "willful blindness"

A person is not required to forfeit their assets used in -- or derived from -- criminal activity if the person was genuinely ignorant of the criminal activity. Mesquite criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse provides an example:

Example: Lisa is roommates with Helen. One day while Lisa is sleeping, Helen takes Lisa's car to go to her ex-boyfriend's house to burglarize it. Lisa had no idea and did not give Helen permission to use the car. Since Lisa had no knowledge of the burglary, she should not be forced to forfeit her car to the police.

Had Lisa in the above example suspected that Helen was using her car illegally but turned a blind eye, then Lisa could be required to forfeit their car:

Example: Lisa is roommates with Helen. Lisa overhears Helen telling a friend that she wants to take Lisa's car to steal from her ex-boyfriend's house. Lisa does not want to make trouble so she covers her ears, does not say anything, and hopes Helen was not being serious. Since Lisa has reason to know that Helen may be committing a felony using her car, Lisa is vulnerable to asset forfeiture of her car if Helen follows through with the burglary.

Lisa in the above example was "willfully blind" to Lisa's criminality. She had reason to know that Lisa was up to trouble, but she purposely buried her head in the sand. Nevada law specifically says that people who practice "willful blindness" may have their property forfeited even though they did not personally commit a crime.5

4. Forfeiture procedures in Nevada

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In some circumstances, police may seize assets without the magistrate issuing process first.

Police generally have to get a magistrate judge's permission before they may seize property that is subject to forfeiture. The judge will usually give permission -- called "process" -- to seize the property as long as:

  1. the judge has legal authority ("jurisdiction") over the property, and
  2. there is a legal reason to take the property

However, there are exceptions where police may seize property without first getting process by the magistrate judge, including:

  • The police have probable cause to believe that the property poses a public health and safety risk;
  • The police have probable cause to believe that the property is subject to forfeiture;
  • The property is currently in foreclosure and the subject of a final judgment proceeding;
  • The police seized the property in the commission of a legal arrest;
  • The police seized the property in accordance with a legal Nevada search warrant;
  • The police seized the property in the course of a legal administrative inspection;

But whenever police seize property without first getting the magistrate's permission, the police have to file a "complaint for forfeiture" with the court right away.6

5. Fighting asset forfeiture in Nevada

Asset forfeiture can be extremely complex, and the cases are both civil and criminal in nature. Fighting an asset forfeiture case usually requires substantial document review and motion practice.

And unlike criminal matters, prosecutors in asset forfeiture proceedings do not have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, they just have to present "clear and convincing" evidence, which is a lower standard.7

People whose property has been seized under the guise of asset forfeiture should retain an attorney experienced in taking law enforcement to task. It may be possible to get seized property returned if the property owner's attorney can show that the police did not follow proper process and conducted an unlawful search and seizure.

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Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney...

If the government is seizing your belongings in Las Vegas or elsewhere in Nevada, it is imperative you retain counsel as soon as possible. Often there is a short time limit in which you can get the property back. Call our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation.

Return to our main page on Nevada fraud crimes.

To learn about federal asset forfeiture laws in Nevada, read our article on federal asset forfeiture laws in Nevada.

To learn about California asset forfeiture law, go to our information page on California asset forfeiture law.


Legal References

  1. NRS 179.1164 Property subject to seizure and forfeiture; exceptions.

          1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2, the following property is subject to seizure and forfeiture in a proceeding for forfeiture:

          (a) Any proceeds attributable to the commission or attempted commission of any felony.

          (b) Any property or proceeds otherwise subject to forfeiture pursuant to NRS 179.121, 200.760, 202.257, 370.419, 453.301 or 501.3857.

          2. Property may not, to the extent of the interest of any claimant, be declared forfeited by reason of an act or omission shown to have been committed or omitted without the knowledge, consent or willful blindness of the claimant.

          3. Unless the owner of real property or a mobile home:

          (a) Has given the tenant notice to surrender the premises pursuant to NRS 40.254 within 90 days after the owner receives notice of a conviction pursuant to subsection 2 of NRS 453.305; or

          (b) Shows the court that the owner had good cause not to evict the tenant summarily pursuant to NRS 40.254,

    -> the owner of real property or a mobile home used or intended for use by a tenant to facilitate any violation of the provisions of NRS 453.011 to 453.552, inclusive, except NRS 453.336, is disputably presumed to have known of and consented to that use if the notices required by NRS 453.305 have been given in connection with another such violation relating to the property or mobile home. The holder of a lien or encumbrance on the property or mobile home is disputably presumed to have acquired an interest in the property for fair value and without knowledge or consent to such use, regardless of when the act giving rise to the forfeiture occurred.

    NRS 179.121 Forfeiture of personal property and conveyances used in commission of crime.

          1. All personal property, including, without limitation, any tool, substance, weapon, machine, computer, money or security, which is used as an instrumentality in any of the following crimes is subject to forfeiture:

          (a) The commission of or attempted commission of the crime of murder, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, invasion of the home, grand larceny or theft if it is punishable as a felony;

          (b) The commission of or attempted commission of any felony with the intent to commit, cause, aid, further or conceal an act of terrorism;

          (c) A violation of NRS 202.445 or 202.446;

          (d) The commission of any crime by a criminal gang, as defined in NRS 213.1263; or

          (e) A violation of NRS 200.463 to 200.468, inclusive, 201.300, 201.320, 202.265, 202.287, 205.473 to 205.513, inclusive, 205.610 to 205.810, inclusive, 370.380, 370.382, 370.395, 370.405, 465.070 to 465.086, inclusive, 630.400, 630A.600, 631.400, 632.285, 632.291, 632.315, 633.741, 634.227, 634A.230, 635.167, 636.145, 637.090, 637B.290, 639.100, 639.2813, 640.169, 640A.230, 644.190 or 654.200.

          2. Except as otherwise provided for conveyances forfeitable pursuant to NRS 453.301 or 501.3857, all conveyances, including aircraft, vehicles or vessels, which are used or intended for use during the commission of a felony or a violation of NRS 202.287, 202.300 or 465.070 to 465.086, inclusive, are subject to forfeiture except that:

          (a) A conveyance used by any person as a common carrier in the transaction of business as a common carrier is not subject to forfeiture under this section unless it appears that the owner or other person in charge of the conveyance is a consenting party or privy to the felony or violation;

          (b) A conveyance is not subject to forfeiture under this section by reason of any act or omission established by the owner thereof to have been committed or omitted without the owner's knowledge, consent or willful blindness;

          (c) A conveyance is not subject to forfeiture for a violation of NRS 202.300 if the firearm used in the violation of that section was not loaded at the time of the violation; and

          (d) A forfeiture of a conveyance encumbered by a bona fide security interest is subject to the interest of the secured party if the secured party neither had knowledge of nor consented to the felony. If a conveyance is forfeited, the appropriate law enforcement agency may pay the existing balance and retain the conveyance for official use.

          3. For the purposes of this section, a firearm is loaded if:

          (a) There is a cartridge in the chamber of the firearm;

          (b) There is a cartridge in the cylinder of the firearm, if the firearm is a revolver; or

          (c) There is a cartridge in the magazine and the magazine is in the firearm or there is a cartridge in the chamber, if the firearm is a semiautomatic firearm.

          4. As used in this section, “act of terrorism” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 202.4415.
  2. NRS 179.1162 “Property” defined. “Property” includes any:

          1. Real property or interest in real property.

          2. Fixture or improvement to real property.

          3. Personal property, whether tangible or intangible, or interest in personal property.

          4. Conveyance, including any aircraft, vehicle or vessel.

          5. Money, security or negotiable instrument.

          6. Proceeds.
  3. See NRS 179.119 and NRS 179.1205.
  4. NRS 179.121.
  5. NRS 179.121.

    NRS 179.11635 “Willful blindness” defined. “Willful blindness” means the intentional disregard of objective facts which would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the property was derived from unlawful activity or would be used for an unlawful purpose.
  6. NRS 179.1165 Seizure of property: Requirement of process.

          1. Except as provided in subsection 2, property that is subject to forfeiture may only be seized by a law enforcement agency upon process issued by a magistrate having jurisdiction over the property.

          2. A seizure of property may be made by a law enforcement agency without process if:

          (a) The seizure is incident to:

                 (1) An arrest;

                 (2) A search pursuant to a search warrant; or

                 (3) An inspection pursuant to a warrant for an administrative inspection;

          (b) The property is the subject of a final judgment in a proceeding for forfeiture;

          (c) The law enforcement agency has probable cause to believe that the property is directly or indirectly dangerous to health or safety; or

          (d) The law enforcement agency has probable cause to believe that the property is subject to forfeiture.

    NRS 179.1171 Proceedings for forfeiture: Rules of practice; complaint; service of summons and complaint; answer; parties.

          1. Except as otherwise provided in NRS 179.1156 to 179.1205, inclusive, the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure are applicable to and constitute the rules of practice in a proceeding for forfeiture pursuant to those sections.

          2. A proceeding for forfeiture is commenced by filing a complaint for forfeiture. If the property has been seized without process, the plaintiff shall file the complaint for forfeiture within 120 days after the property is seized. The property is subject to an action to claim its delivery only if the plaintiff does not file the complaint for forfeiture within 60 days after the property is seized. If the complaint for forfeiture is filed following the commencement of an action claiming delivery, the complaint must be treated as a counterclaim.

          3. If a law enforcement agency seizes property, the property must not be forfeited unless:

          (a) The agency files a complaint for forfeiture in the district court for the county in which the property is located; or

          (b) A stipulated agreement between the parties regarding the property is reached.

          4. A proceeding for forfeiture is in rem. The complaint for forfeiture must be filed in the district court for the county in which the property which is the subject of the proceeding is located.

          5. The plaintiff shall cause service of the summons and complaint to be made upon each claimant whose identity is known to the plaintiff or who can be identified through the exercise of reasonable diligence. If real property or any interest in real property is affected by the proceeding, the plaintiff shall file notice of the proceeding in the manner provided in NRS 14.010.

          6. Each claimant served with the summons and complaint who desires to contest the forfeiture shall, within 20 days after the service, serve and file a verified answer to the complaint. The claimant shall admit or deny the averments of the complaint and shall, in short and plain terms, describe the interest which the claimant asserts in the property. Concurrently with the answer, the claimant shall serve answers or objections to any written interrogatories served with the summons and complaint.

          7. No person, other than the plaintiff and any claimant, is a proper party in the proceeding.


    NRS 179.1173 Proceedings for forfeiture: Priority over other civil matters; order to stay; standard of proof; conviction of claimant not required; confidentiality of informants; return of property to claimant; forfeiture as part of plea or stipulated agreement.

          1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2, the district court shall proceed as soon as practicable to a trial and determination of the matter. A proceeding for forfeiture is entitled to priority over other civil actions which are not otherwise entitled to priority.

          2. At a proceeding for forfeiture, the court shall issue an order staying the proceeding that remains in effect while the criminal action which is the basis of the proceeding is pending trial. The court shall lift the stay after the trial is completed. If the claimant is acquitted during the trial, the property of the claimant must be returned to the claimant within 7 business days after the acquittal.

          3. If property has been seized and the criminal charges against the owner of such property are denied or dismissed, all such property must be returned to the owner within 7 business days after the criminal charges are denied or dismissed.

          4. The plaintiff in a proceeding for forfeiture must establish proof by clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture.

          5. In a proceeding for forfeiture, the rule of law that forfeitures are not favored does not apply.

          6. The plaintiff is not required to plead or prove that a claimant has been charged with or convicted of any criminal offense. If proof of such a conviction is made, and it is shown that the judgment of conviction has become final, the proof is, as against any claimant, conclusive evidence of all facts necessary to sustain the conviction.

          7. The plaintiff has an absolute privilege to refuse to disclose the identity of any person, other than a witness, who has furnished to a law enforcement officer information purporting to reveal the commission of a crime. The privilege may be claimed by an appropriate representative of the plaintiff.

          8. If the court determines that the property is not subject to forfeiture, the court shall order the property and any interest accrued pursuant to subsection 2 of NRS 179.1175 returned to the claimant found to be entitled to the property within 7 business days after the order is issued. If the court determines that the property is subject to forfeiture, the court shall so decree. The property, including any interest accrued pursuant to subsection 2 of NRS 179.1175, must be forfeited to the plaintiff, subject to the right of any claimant who establishes a protected interest. Any such claimant must, upon the sale or retention of the property, be compensated for the claimant's interest in the manner provided in NRS 179.118.

          9. A claimant who agrees to enter a plea of guilty, guilty but mentally ill or nolo contendere to criminal charges relating to the seized property or reaches a stipulated agreement with the plaintiff may agree to the forfeiture of any property as part of the plea or agreement.

          10. If the court accepts a plea or stipulated agreement pursuant to subsection 9, the court shall order forfeiture of the property that the claimant agreed to forfeit pursuant to the plea or agreement.

  7. NRS 179.1173 Proceedings for forfeiture: Priority over other civil matters; order to stay; standard of proof; conviction of claimant not required; confidentiality of informants; return of property to claimant; forfeiture as part of plea or stipulated agreement.

          1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2, the district court shall proceed as soon as practicable to a trial and determination of the matter. A proceeding for forfeiture is entitled to priority over other civil actions which are not otherwise entitled to priority.

          2. At a proceeding for forfeiture, the court shall issue an order staying the proceeding that remains in effect while the criminal action which is the basis of the proceeding is pending trial. The court shall lift the stay after the trial is completed. If the claimant is acquitted during the trial, the property of the claimant must be returned to the claimant within 7 business days after the acquittal.

          3. If property has been seized and the criminal charges against the owner of such property are denied or dismissed, all such property must be returned to the owner within 7 business days after the criminal charges are denied or dismissed.

          4. The plaintiff in a proceeding for forfeiture must establish proof by clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture.

          5. In a proceeding for forfeiture, the rule of law that forfeitures are not favored does not apply.

          6. The plaintiff is not required to plead or prove that a claimant has been charged with or convicted of any criminal offense. If proof of such a conviction is made, and it is shown that the judgment of conviction has become final, the proof is, as against any claimant, conclusive evidence of all facts necessary to sustain the conviction.

          7. The plaintiff has an absolute privilege to refuse to disclose the identity of any person, other than a witness, who has furnished to a law enforcement officer information purporting to reveal the commission of a crime. The privilege may be claimed by an appropriate representative of the plaintiff.

          8. If the court determines that the property is not subject to forfeiture, the court shall order the property and any interest accrued pursuant to subsection 2 of NRS 179.1175 returned to the claimant found to be entitled to the property within 7 business days after the order is issued. If the court determines that the property is subject to forfeiture, the court shall so decree. The property, including any interest accrued pursuant to subsection 2 of NRS 179.1175, must be forfeited to the plaintiff, subject to the right of any claimant who establishes a protected interest. Any such claimant must, upon the sale or retention of the property, be compensated for the claimant's interest in the manner provided in NRS 179.118.

          9. A claimant who agrees to enter a plea of guilty, guilty but mentally ill or nolo contendere to criminal charges relating to the seized property or reaches a stipulated agreement with the plaintiff may agree to the forfeiture of any property as part of the plea or agreement.

          10. If the court accepts a plea or stipulated agreement pursuant to subsection 9, the court shall order forfeiture of the property that the claimant agreed to forfeit pursuant to the plea or agreement.

    Fergason v. Las Vegas Metro. Police Dep't, 131 Nev. Adv. Rep. 94, 364 P.3d 592 (2015)("As amended in 2001, NRS 179.1173(4) now requires the State to "establish proof by clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture[.]").

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