Asset forfeiture allows police to seize money or other possessions that they think are connected to a crime. When Nevada lawyer John Fortin came across a woman who claimed her house had been wrongly seized by police in an asset forfeiture proceeding, not only did he see a woman who had been wronged; he saw a winnable case.
According to Jenna Greene at Reuters, in 2012 Elvin Fred settled a civil rights lawsuit against Carson City Sheriff’s Office deputies for allegedly beating him during a wrongful arrest. Elvin took the $60,000 that he won from the case and used it to buy a modest, one-story home. He was about $12,000 short, so his sister Sylvia supplied the balance to make the purchase in all cash. Three years later, in 2015, Elvin was charged with drug trafficking. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Before Elvin went to prison, he added Sylvia to the title of the home he had previously purchased. Sylvia did not live in the home, but she graciously took over paying property taxes and utility bills on behalf of the other family members who did live there. The state of Nevada initiated forfeiture proceedings to seize the house in 2015 but paused the matter while Elvin’s criminal case for drug trafficking proceeded. Not notified of the proceedings, the Fred family only learned about the forfeiture when sheriff’s deputies put an eviction notice on the front door. Representing herself, Sylvia protested the seizure of the home, but lost in the district court.
Fortin, who asserts that civil forfeiture violated Nevada’s double jeopardy clause because it seeks to “extract an additional punishment based on the same criminal conduct”, decided to take on the case pro bono on appeal. With Fortin’s help, the justices in 2021 reversed and remanded the case. Since then, Fortin has picked up Elvin as a client, challenging the state taking his home, since it is “seeking to punish Elvin for the same criminal conduct he is already incarcerated for.” While Fortin acknowledges that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected this argument in the past, he believes they’re wrong. His claims are based on the Nevada Constitution which he says “provides robust liberty and property protections that exceed” federal rights.
Fortin is not pushing for the forfeiture laws to be abolished as a whole, but rather he is seeking to reform the process. He argues that forfeiture matters should be handled within the criminal case, not as a separate civil proceeding.
Forfeiture in Mississippi
According to J. Robertson with Empower Mississippi, a little-known provision in Mississippi law allows for state and local agencies to seize private property. The process of civil asset forfeiture is advertised as a way to deprive drug dealers and criminals of their ill-gotten gains. While it’s true that civil asset forfeiture allows for cash, cars, and guns connected with criminal activity to be forfeited to the state, the law is structured to allow for the seizure of all types of property – regardless of whether the owner was convicted of a crime.
Allowing the government to seize property from those who have never even been charged with a crime opens the door to abuse and it undermines private property protections in the state. According to the Grading Justice, which rates the state’s progress on criminal justice issues and assigns a score to the them, Mississippi earned a grade of D for asset forfeiture due to its lack of protection for property owners. While reforms were implemented in 2017 to help protect property owners, work remains to be done—both in Mississippi and Nevada. If you are in Mississippi and believe your property has improperly seized, look no further than Vic Carmody Jr., P.A. for help!
Enlist the Help of a Qualified Attorney
When you are searching the state of Mississippi for a qualified, experienced defense attorney, look no further than Vic Carmody Jr., P.A. No matter the circumstances of your case, the sooner you get in touch with a qualified criminal defense attorney, the better chance you have for a favorable outcome. Please call us for a free consultation today, and we can help you defend yourself and your seized property in Mississippi.
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