State representatives met to discuss changes that can be made to revamp the state’s forfeiture laws, focusing on what type of property can be seized and the process police would have to go through to take that property.
Asset forfeiture is a form confiscation of assets—cash, vehicles, real estate, or other personal property—by the state, usually after the property owner commits a crime. Seizures of this kind are done by the government as a way to punish lawbreakers and reduce the incentive for illegal conduct. However, critics argue that law enforcement agencies are abusing the process to fatten their budgets, since the cash is eventually redistributed to the agency that performed the seizure. Innocent property owners are often caught in the process to the point where their 4th and 5th Amendment rights are arguably violated.
South Carolina’s lawmakers are concerned about all the forfeitures that occur without criminal charges. Police can currently seize a person’s property just by having probable cause. An investigative report from early 2019 found no criminal charges were filed in nearly 20 percent of all forfeiture cases in the state, and another 20 percent of cases never resulted in a conviction. Officers confiscated almost $18 million using forfeiture in just three years. At least 75 percent of the assets were returned to the agency that performed the seizure and could be used for any number of department expenses, sources indicate.
Reform seemed certain in February 2019 when more than 80 South Carolina representatives co-sponsored a bill (H. 3968) to abolish the existing civil forfeiture process and replace it with criminal forfeiture. That bill passed the House but was pulled due to language that didn’t reflect the state’s legal system. The representatives instead set up a task force that met over the course of several months to propose a new report.
Over a year later, the House Civil Asset Reform Subcommittee convened to discuss one proposal that would overhaul the current system and a second proposal that would involve a complete rework of the state’s forfeiture laws and strengthen safeguards of due process. The lawmakers discussed setting minimum thresholds for seizures, what to do with assets that are abandoned by owners, and the need for preliminary hearings any time police seize property.
It’s still too early to tell what type of reform South Carolina’s legislators will ultimately choose, if at all. Until meaningful change is enacted, anyone who has had their property seized by law enforcement agents in a civil or criminal forfeiture action should immediately seek legal counsel. An experienced attorney can help you challenge the seizure and make the government prove it is entitled to keep your property.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your lawful property been seized using civil asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorneys.