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Can police take your cash or property without charging you?

During a traffic stop, police officers might ask you a number of questions. Do you have insurance? Have you been drinking? One question that catches plenty of people off guard is whether they have a large amount of cash in their vehicle.

Given that visitors and residents alike could experience a windfall in a Nevada casino, there are people who might have large amounts of cash and a valid reason for having it in their vehicle. Others might be on their way to buy a car or something else second-hand in a cash transaction.

Unfortunately, officers often treat cash as an indicator of criminal involvement. In some cases, they might seize your cash with the claim that it has ties to organized crime or the drug trade. Can police officers just take your money even if they don’t charge you with a crime or convict you of one?

Nevada has easily abused civil asset forfeiture laws

Financial incentives often lead to criminal activity. People sell drugs, for example, because there’s a lot of demand and the potential for significant income. To deter people from committing crimes for money, states have the power to seize assets purchased with funds earned through crime or property used to commit a crime.

Law enforcement officers can take property associated with criminal activity through civil asset forfeiture. Under Nevada state law, they can do so without ever convicting the person whose property they seized. Civil asset forfeiture takes place in the civil court, which means that the burden of proof for law enforcement is lower than it would be in the criminal courts.

Watchdog groups give the state of Nevada a D- regarding its civil asset forfeiture process because:

  • It is easy to abuse
  • Has minimal accountability
  • Directly benefits the officers who seized the assets of civilians, increasing the likelihood for innocent people to wind up targeted

Police departments have an incentive to take people’s property because that money goes right back to their department.

Victims of unjust property forfeiture can fight back

The good news is that you don’t have to just accept the loss of your property when police take what is yours without justifiable reason. You can go to court to push back against claims that your property is the result of criminal activity or evidence of it. The more valuable the property in question, the greater the reason to try to get it back.