Nevada asset forfeiture laws allow the government to seize and forfeit property from individuals when the property has (1) been used to carry out a Nevada felony, or (2) 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:
- 1. Definition
- 2. Forfeiture crimes
- 3. Exceptions and “willful blindness”
- 4. Forfeiture procedures
- 5. Fighting asset forfeiture
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
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:
- the Nevada crime of racketeering
- Nevada gang crimes
- Nevada drug crimes
- the Nevada crime of murder
- the Nevada crime of kidnapping
- the Nevada crime of robbery
- the Nevada crime of burglary
- the Nevada crime of home invasion
- the Nevada crime of grand larceny
- Nevada terrorism crimes4
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
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:
- the judge has legal authority (“jurisdiction”) over the property, and
- 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.
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 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.
- NRS 179.1164 Property subject to seizure and forfeiture; exceptions.
- NRS 179.1162 “Property” defined.
- See NRS 179.119 and NRS 179.1205.
- NRS 179.121.
- 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.
- NRS 179.1165 Seizure of property: Requirement of process.
- 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.
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[.]”).