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.