Return of motorist’s $167,000 taken in Nevada highlights concern

The government’s oft-criticized civil forfeiture practice has once more come under fire in the wake of a federal judge’s decision ordering the return of $167,000 taken from a mobile home on a Nevada highway.

In his June 12 choice, Senior U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks stated Reno federal district attorneys were not honest with him in forfeiture court documents about what resulted in the January 2013 seizure by Elko County constable’s deputies from the recreational vehicle on Interstate 80.

“They tried to draw the wool over the judge’s eyes,” stated David B. Smith, a Washington-area lawyer regarded as among the foremost experts on civil forfeiture abuses. “If I was the judge, I would have asked the district attorneys to describe to me exactly what was the purpose of not providing those facts.”

Had the seizure happened this year, it’s unlikely the government would have taken the case to federal court at all, Smith said.

In January, amidst ongoing criticism from civil libertarian and government guard dog groups, then-U.S. Attorney general of the united states Eric Holder scaled back the Justice Department’s policy of pursuing civil forfeitures of “adopted” possessions seized by state and local police. Under the so-called equitable sharing program, if the government dominates in federal court, it keeps 20 percent of the assets and returns the rest to the agencies that made the seizures.

Holder’s order prohibited adoptions unless the possessions consist of firearms, ammo, explosives, youngster pornography or other home associated to public safety.

Civil forfeiture laws enable the government to take funds from thought lawbreakers without charging them with a criminal offense.

In January, the Washington Post reported that state and regional authorities have actually made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and apartment worth $3 billion under the fair sharing program given that 2008.

In the Elko case, the driver of the recreational vehicle, Straughn Gorman, was neither charged nor pointed out for a traffic infraction– nor does he have a criminal record.

According to court documents, a Nevada Highway Patrol cannon fodder initially stopped Gorman for driving too sluggish in the fast lane, however after Gorman refused to let him browse the recreational vehicle, he was enabled to go on his way.

The cannon fodder then arranged for an Elko County sheriff’s deputy with a drug-sniffing canine to stop Gorman once again, and the pet dog alerted the deputy to something suspicious in the recreational vehicle, documents reveal. The search turned up no drugs, but the $167,000 was found hidden in numerous places.

Constable’s deputies took Gorman’s recreational vehicle, his laptop computer and his money, leaving him with just a charge card. They were prepared to leave him on the highway outside Elko in the bitter January cold until he asked for a trip into town, stated his Las Vegas lawyer, Vincent Savarese.

Authorities suspect Gorman, a Hawaii local, was on his method to California to purchase cannabis, though Gorman said he was going to visit his partner in Sacramento.

The recreational vehicle, which came from his bro, and the laptop computer were ultimately returned, but the $167,000 went to federal authorities for civil forfeiture.

In his choice, Hicks found that the two traffic stops belonged, and he was crucial of the prosecutors for neglecting any references to the first stop in their forfeiture documents. Hicks purchased Gorman’s cash returned and said he is entitled to look for legal representatives costs from the government.

“It’s a double whammy,” Savarese stated. “First, you have the problem of the illegality of the Fourth Amendment offense in the field and then you have what the court viewed to be an effort by district attorneys to obscure the realities about the 4th Change offense.”

Federal prosecutors are thinking about an appeal of Hicks’ decision. The last word must originate from the Justice Department’s lawyer general in Washington.

Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden would not publicly go over the case, however he stated his office is just imposing the law.

Civil forfeiture is meant to stop lawbreakers from making money from their criminal offenses and permit the government to obtain restitution for crime victims, Bogden stated.

Due process rights are not prevented throughout forfeiture proceedings, he insisted.

“We’re following the letter of the law,” Bogden said. “The owners are notified, provided a chance to claim ownership of the funds, and have the funds returned. If a claim of ownership against the currency is filed, the case is prosecuted similar to any other claim.”

Bogden said highway seizures need to be based upon likely cause the assets have been utilized or will certainly be used in illegal activity.

“In the huge bulk of our interdiction forfeitures, the possession took is money, which is discovered wrapped in packages … and hidden in various locations within an automobile, all indicating an effort to prevent detection by law enforcement or a drug-sniffing canine,” Bogden said.

Authorities are seizing funds that “contain several hallmarks of unlawful activity” in nearly every case, he described. In the past 2 years, the U.S. lawyer’s office has gotten 49 civil forfeiture judgments.

Still, highway seizures by local authorities along I-80 in Northern Nevada have come under fire over due procedure offenses in recent months, with suits challenging the constitutionality of the seizures.

“They’re shaking down vehicle drivers to try to find large sums of cash,” Savarese stated. “They detain individuals on hunches and not on objective reasonable suspicion, which is an infraction of the constitution.”

Savarese said the policy reducing adoption of assets is recognition that abuses in the forfeiture process have been happening throughout the nation.

Smith said legislation to upgrade the process is waiting to be presented in Congress.

“These expenses have teeth and would go extremely far in resolving the problems” he said.

The expenses would remove the equitable sharing policy and need the government to supply lawyers for people who do not have a lot of cash to challenge seizures, according to Smith.

“They generally go after people in these highway seizures who are not rich,” he said. “The government depends on that to discourage individuals from fighting the cases.

“Needing appointed counsel and having the government spend for it will certainly make a big difference.”

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com!.?.! or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanR on Twitter.

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