Last week, I reported on the state of civil asset forfeiture in South Carolina—that between 2014-16, law enforcement agencies seized property and cash worth at least $17 million with little oversight on how those assets were taken or used.
With 95 percent of the proceeds from civil asset forfeitures going to fund law enforcement, it is clear there are incentives for police in South Carolina to carry out civil forfeitures. This is known to critics of civil asset forfeiture as “policing for profit.” Last week, I reported on gatherings where officers could earn prizes for having the most property seizures.
Jarrod Bruder, executive director at the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association, feels it is important that law enforcement keeps this money. “What is the incentive to go out and make a special effort [if law enforcement doesn’t keep the proceeds from forfeitures]?” he asked. “What is the incentive for interdiction?”
Critics of civil asset forfeiture argue that forfeiture should be tied to criminal charges. These criminal cases, they argue, should include proof that the seized assets were used in a criminal offense. Money the criminal happened to be carrying at this time of arrest should not be taken if it was not involved in a crime. In a fifth of forfeitures, no one was charged with a crime.
Travelers Rest Police Chief Benjamin Ford said he believes the system is fair because property owners are able to fight in court to have their property returned. Only 6 percent of cases, however, resulted in property or cash being returned in full to the property owner.
In criminal cases, defendants have access to legal counsel, and a high standard of proof is required for conviction. In civil asset forfeiture, however, property owners must pay for their own lawyers, and the standard of proof to forfeit property is much lower, only requiring “a preponderance of the evidence.” In many cases, it costs more to recover seized property than the property is worth.
Facing these obstacles, many individuals feel it isn’t worth fighting for their property.
A majority of seizures are carried out against African Americans—even though African Americans account for only 30 percent of the state’s population, 71 percent of seizures are against black people. Black men account for the overwhelming majority of these cases.
Jimmy Dixon, Clemson police chief, argues the stream of forfeiture money is essential for the operation of police departments. Cutting this income “could potentially shut down our K-9 unit,” said Dixon. “Overall, our ability to conduct undercover narcotics operations could be stifled.”
Jake Mahoney, a lieutenant at the Aiken Police Department, believes funds would have to be taken from their budget to cover drug enforcement operations.
Derek Cohen, executive director at the conservative criminal justice organization, Right on Crime, argues that the police should be fully funded from the budget allotted to them—money which comes from taxpayer dollars and is fully accountable. It should not, he says, depend on how aggressively a police department carries out civil asset forfeitures.
“No one is saying ‘Don’t fund law enforcement,’” said Robert Johnson of the libertarian Institute for Justice. “What we’re saying is law enforcement should be funded without regard to the amount of money that they receive.”
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.