When Isiah Kinloch of North Charleston in South Carolina was recovering in hospital from a head injury he sustained while fending off a robber, law enforcement searched his apartment. The found $1,800 in cash and an ounce of cannabis. By the time he was released, police had taken his cash.
Law enforcement charged the man with “Possession with Intent to Distribute.” The man said the cash came from his job as a tattoo artist and that he was using marijuana to help him with the pain he suffered after a car accident. The police eventually dropped all charges against him, but they never returned his money.
“The robber didn’t get anything,” said the accused. “The police got everything.”
Law enforcement used civil asset forfeiture to seize the man’s cash. This is a legal procedure where police may take possession of property or cash if it is suspected of involvement in a crime. In most states, a criminal conviction is not necessary before assets are taken. In South Carolina, it is the property owner’s responsibility to show their property was either not used in a crime or that they did not consent to its use in a crime.
Additionally, in South Carolina, law enforcement receives 95 percent of the proceeds from civil asset forfeitures—the remaining 5 percent goes to the state’s general fund. There is little oversight on these forfeitures—law enforcement agencies neither track nor report forfeitures. Law enforcement uses the proceeds to fund their own operations.
According to a report in The Greenville News, “Officers gather in places like Spartanburg County for contests with trophies to see who can make the most seizures during highway blitzes. … They earn hats, mementos, and free dinners, and agencies that participate take home a cut of the forfeiture proceeds.”
It is estimated that law enforcement in South Carolina took property worth in excess of $17 million between 2014 and 2016. One-fifth of the people who had property taken were never charged with any crime.
Civil asset forfeiture in South Carolina disproportionately affects African American men. While they only comprise 13 percent of the state’s population, 65 percent of the people who have had property seized are black men. African Americans are almost three times more likely to have their property taken than whites.
When he learned this, state Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) said: “The fact that they are being stopped is no surprise, but now, the unmitigated fact that they are having their assets seized and taken by the government is appalling.”
Civil asset forfeiture cases are rarely contested in the state. The process is time-consuming and expensive. Unlike in a criminal case, the state does not provide property owners with a lawyer. If property owners cannot afford legal counsel, they would have to face the court system without any assistance. With 55 percent of forfeitures coming in at less than $1,000, it may cost more to fight get your property back than not to challenge the case at all.
According to the Institute for Justice, South Carolina earns a D- for its civil asset forfeiture laws, among the worst in the country.
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.