Property Confiscation And The Risk Of Discrimination

Property Confiscation And The Risk Of Discrimination

Property Confiscation And The Risk Of Discrimination

We need to discuss an underlying issue around the topic of civil asset forfeiture and why there is need for strong oversight and transparency. 

We have discussed what civil asset forfeiture is in a previous blog post but here is a reminder:

Civil asset forfeiture is a process in which law enforcement officers take assets from persons suspected of involvement with crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing.

While efforts need to be made to keep all parties involved accountable and transparent, we must also consider the undue burden this puts on the most vulnerable communities, particularly those in poverty. Once we understand how burdensome this can be on these communities, then we can better address shortcomings of the system to make sure it helps fight crime in these communities.

An Open Door To Discrimination

With civil asset forfeiture, you (or technically your seized property) are guilty until you prove your innocence. This is in direct opposition to the spirit of the judicial system’s design in that someone is innocent until proven guilty. 

With civil asset forfeiture YOU bear the burden to fight back through the legal system. This process can result in weeks or even months of legal disputes and red tape. While that would be a burden on any citizen, it could potentially be devastating to someone struggling in poverty.

Civil Asset Forfeiture in Georgia

An Overwhelming Impact

a girl being pulled over and given a ticketImagine being pulled over and your car being confiscated by police. For anyone this would be an annoyance, but imagine you are someone in poverty. You likely don’t have access to the same network of friends or family members to help you get to your job. You also likely have less flexibility with your work schedule or working remotely. 

When your forfeiture court date is set, it would likely be set during regular business hours. For an individual paid by the hour, this could mean lost wages. Depending on the value of the confiscated item, you would want to fight to get back your personal property.

Compounding the issue, is that you are asked to attend a court hearing for your forfeiture case. You are not obligated to attend it, but your side of the story will not be heard if you do not attend. As expected, these court times are set during regular business hours. This could time-off from your job to contest the confiscation during regular work hours.

While some would want to hire legal support to fight the case, those struggling are not likely to have the expendable income to fight the case.

For anyone this could be problematic, but for someone already striving to simply get by, this could be devastating.

Removing The Burden

This is why usage of well-intentioned systems, like civil asset forfeiture, require oversight and transparency. In Georgia this is done via a reporting website by a third-party. Sadly from our research on Georgia’s reporting, efforts to keep confiscation in the public eye has resulted in bureaucracy and mishandled reports.

Our hope is that if such laws are necessary to fight crime efficiently, as many police officials argue they are, than transparency and accountability must remain a top priority. 

Have you been a victim of property confiscation by the police?

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Did You Know Your Property Can Be Taken Without A Conviction?

Did You Know Your Property Can Be Taken Without A Conviction?

Did You Know Your Property Can Be Taken Without A Conviction?

Knowing what civil asset forfeiture is and
what you can do if you are a victim of it

 

Let’s talk about a topic that doesn’t roll off the tongue or come up in casual conversation – civil asset forfeiture. We here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) just released a report on its usage in Georgia because it’s a system that has the potential to overburden low-income communities not able to fight back or financially recover. To understand why this is true, we must first understand what it is, how it’s used and how people go about getting back property confiscated from them.

 

What is civil asset forfeiture?

Civil asset forfeiture is a process used by law enforcement to confiscate property they deem as having been used in criminal activity. Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, civil asset forfeiture does not require a conviction or criminal charges.

Georgia is one of thirty-four states that have civil asset forfeiture laws. Despite recent laws requiring new reporting, regulations on how funds are used, and transparency there are still stories of abuse

While abuse is not widespread, it is vital that we create a system that will bring light to abuses so that the benefits of the law are not lost.

 

Civil Asset Forfeiture in Georgia

What is done with the confiscated property?

Once property is confiscated, it can be retained by law enforcement through a simple procedure that puts the burden on the owner to essentially prove that the property was not used in criminal activity – a very difficult thing to do. Police departments are then free to use the property for any purpose not directly related to officer compensation. 

Recent changes in the law were intended to make the forfeiture system more transparent and accountable through clear reporting and giving the public access to the information. While the reforms were helpful and have brought some transparency, more still needs to be done to curb potential abuse of the system and insure innocent individuals don’t have their property taken.

 

officers investigating a carWhy is property confiscated?

There are two reasons your property may be confiscated. 

The first is if the police believe your property was used in criminal activity. If this happens it is the responsibility of the person whose property is confiscated to make a claim and prove that it was not used in criminal activity. 

The other scenario described below by the Institute for Justice, is the police confiscate property used in criminal activity, whether you knew of it or not. So if a criminal breaks into your car and takes it on a crime spree, it can be confiscated, and it becomes the owner’s responsibility to prove innocence.

If an innocent person’s property gets allegedly used by somebody else in a crime, the innocent owner bears the burden of proving that he or she neither knew about nor consented that criminal activity.


How do I get my property back?

If your property is confiscated the responsibility is on the individual whose property is taken to prove their innocence. This includes filling out the proper forms and directly contacting the police department that confiscated your property.

In most cases, the issue will not go to court since the majority of civil forfeitures end administratively. This does not mean you won’t need a lawyer. If you feel you need a lawyer, we suggest reaching out to legal organizations like the Georgia Justice Project or the Institute for Justice. These organizations can help share steps on how to fight abuse.

 

Share your experience

No matter what the outcome is in your case, it is important to share your story. Most in the system are well-intentioned individuals, but the best way to keep the system accountable is through transparency. If you have a story of civil asset forfeiture, we want to hear from you. Tell us your experience, good or bad.

Have you been a victim of property confiscation by the police?

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