U.S. Attorney Peter M. McCoy confirmed that his office collected $53,839,927 in criminal and civil actions. Approximately $49 million was collected in civil actions, while $4.8 million was collected in criminal actions.
“I am extremely proud of the hard work of the consummate professionals in our U.S. Attorney’s Office,” McCoy said in a press release. “From our team’s work, we have been able to collect over $56 million this year—money that allows us to protect South Carolinians, seek justice for victims of crime, and seek harsh punishment for criminals.”
McCoy’s office also collected $2.5 million from criminal and civil asset forfeiture actions in FY 2020. Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool used by law enforcement agencies to seize cash, vehicles, real estate, and other valuables suspected of being tied to criminal activity, sometimes even without charging the property owner for a crime. Civil forfeiture is different from criminal forfeiture, which requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an owner is guilty of a crime and then prove the property is connected to the crime.
South Carolina recently received a near-failing ‘D-’ grade for its civil forfeiture laws from the Institute for Justice’s (IJ) “Policing for Profit” report, which examines the effects of unwarranted seizures through civil forfeiture across the U.S.
According to IJ, South Carolina has a low bar to forfeit property; once a law enforcement agency seizes property, the evidentiary burden is on the owner to prove their property is not connected to a crime. There is also a large profit incentive for police and prosecutors to initiate civil forfeiture as 95 percent of the proceeds go to law enforcement agencies.
“The heart of the problem remains poor state and federal civil forfeiture laws, which are little improved since the previous edition of Policing for Profit was published in 2015,” said Lisa Knepper, who co-authored the report, in a press release. “Most laws still stack the deck against property owners and give law enforcement perverse financial incentives to pursue property over justice.”
Several bills have been considered by South Carolina lawmakers to reform the system in recent years. In August 2020, state lawmakers met to discuss changes that could 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. They were particularly concerned about forfeitures that occur without any formal charges. An investigative report by Greenville News from early 2019 found no 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.
The issue will likely continue to be addressed again during the 2021 legislative session, which will begin on January 12. Until the lawmakers actually vote on and pass a reform bill, anyone who has had their property seized by law enforcement should immediately contact a civil asset forfeiture attorney.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your property been seized by police or federal agents? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.