Karen Donnelly, the state’s attorney of Nebraska, was vocal during last year’s campaign in her opposition of authorities seizing money in cases in which no one is charged with a crime. During the election, her opponent, former La Salle County state’s attorney Brian Towne, was criticized for creating a drug unit in his office that seized money from I-80 drivers suspected of involvement in the drug trade. Most of these drivers were never charged. In her campaign, she promised to stop the practice of seeking civil property forfeitures in cases where there are no criminal charges.
However, recently her office took court action to keep $166,505 the state police seized from an I-80 driver and passenger who weren’t charged with a crime. According to court records, state law enforcement stopped Edvard Ghazaryan and passenger Mkrtychyan on September 6, 2017, for following too closely on the highway. A drug-sniffing dog detected the presence of drugs in the car, and the police conducted a search, finding the money in a duffle bag. While the two asserted the money was from a sale of a 2016 Mercedes, the police determined the money was generated from marijuana dealing and money laundering. However, the men were not charged, nor were they booked into the La Salle County Jail.
Just last week, Donnelly’s office filed court papers to permanently keep the money found through a process called civil forfeiture. If the office is successful, the money will be distributed to a number of agencies. The state police will receive about $110,000, and the state’s attorney’s office will get almost $21,000. According to the department’s first assistant state’s attorney, Donnelly hasn’t broken her campaign promise because she made no promises about money laundering-related forfeitures.
One of the law firms most vocally against civil forfeiture is The Institute for Justice. They argue convictions should be necessary before the property is forfeited. A number of other states have banned the practice, only allowing the states to seize property after a conviction. Likewise, in Nebraska, the burden of proof is lower for civil forfeiture than for a criminal conviction.
If someone’s property has been seized without a criminal conviction on the books, he or she should contact one of the skilled Lincoln criminal defense lawyers at Berry Law Firm. The firm focuses on defending clients facing criminal charges and whose constitutional rights have been violated. Collectively, the lawyers in this firm have more than 100 years of combined legal experience to offer each case.
The firm can be contacted at (402) 817-6550 or by filling out their online form.