AB425 Testimony (Civil Asset Forfeiture)

Daniel Honchariw

Testimony in Support of Assembly Bill 425 of the 2021 Nevada Legislature

 

Members of the Assembly Committee on Judiciary:

NPRI supports Assembly Bill 425 and urges each member of this committee to do the same.

Nevada’s existing forfeiture laws make a mockery of traditional notions of due process, resulting in a well-greased system which overwhelmingly preys on the marginalized and violates the civil liberties of those entangled within its web.

NPRI’s prime criticisms of the status quo are trifold:

  • Civil-asset forfeiture disproportionately impacts lower-income, mostly minority communities
    1. NPRI’s 2017 report, “Who Does Civil Asset Forfeiture Target Most?” found that seizures (and the resulting forfeitures) overwhelmingly target low-income populations.
    2. This suggests not just a disparate impact, but also illustrates how those who are most likely to be burdened by questionable police seizures often lack the resources, financial or otherwise, to effectively contest those actions in civil court.
  • Current law incentivizes “policing for profit”
    1. Law enforcement agencies typically are permitted to keep all, or at least a sizeable portion, of the funds generated by the sale of assets they seize (and which are ultimately forfeited)
      1. E.g., Per the Nevada Attorney General’s latest forfeiture report, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department relied upon forfeiture laws to collect nearly $2.4 million in sales of property during Fiscal Year 2020.
        1. Of that $2.4 million:
          1. ~$580,000 was kept by LVMPD for “reasonable expenses” associated w/ the seizures/forfeitures;
          2. ~$350,000 was retained by LVMPD, per NRS 179.1187(1) and NRS 279.118(2)(b), with the conditions that “the money must not be used to pay the ordinary operating expenses of the agency” (NRS 279.1187(2)(a)).
          3. Only ~$320,000 was directed to Clark County schools
          4. Thus, of $2.4 million’s worth of forfeited property during Fiscal Year 2020, only $320,000 (or about 13%) funded K-12 education — while LVMPD banked nearly $1 million (see below)

  • Lack of taxpayer-provided legal counsel for accused property owners
    1. Forfeiture proceedings occur in civil court, but they are more appropriate for the criminal-court scheme, given the high stakes, where counsel is provided (precisely which AB425 proposes to do)
    2. Contesting forfeitures is often cost-prohibitive because a) accused property owners generally lack the financial and legal resources to effectively contest the seizure and auctioning-off of their property and, b) even when they do, the cost of hiring an attorney often outweighs the value of the property seized.
      1. NPRI’s 2017 forfeiture report found that the majority of seizures/forfeitures affects property whose total value is less than $1,000—a few hours’ worth of attorneys’ fees.

As originally drafted, Assembly Bill 425 addresses many of our concerns with the status quo of Nevada’s forfeiture laws. However, we propose a conceptual amendment that would direct *all* funds generated by forfeited property—including “reasonable expenses”—to that county’s (or state) General Fund.

Respectfully,

 

Daniel Honchariw, MPA
NPRI Director of Legislative Affairs
Daniel Honchariw

Daniel Honchariw

Director of Legislative Affairs

Daniel Honchariw joined the Nevada Policy Research Institute in May 2016. He focuses mostly on fiscal policy and public-sector labor relations, and he has also published extensively on the abuses of civil asset forfeiture. His work has been featured and/or cited by in-state and national publications including USA Today, The New Yorker, Reason, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and the Reno Gazette-Journal. When the Nevada Legislature is in session, he appears each Thursday @3PM on the Kevin Wall Radio Show (670AM Las Vegas) to provide insight into what’s happening in Carson City.

Prior to joining, Daniel had been a lifelong California resident. His experience includes stints with the National Labor Relations Board, multiple financial services firms, and a Tahoe ski resort. He is a sports fanatic, political junkie, and chess enthusiast.

Daniel holds a B.S. in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University (’09), an M.P.A. in Public Management from California State University, Dominguez Hills (’14), and a Certificate in Accounting from Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management (’21).