GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT
WHY Georgia’s Civil Asset forfeiture Law NEEDs ACCOUNTABILITY
Civil Asset Forfeiture
What It Is
Civil asset forfeiture is used by law enforcement to confiscate property they deem as having been used in criminal activity. Unlike with criminal asset forfeiture, civil asset forfeiture does not require a conviction or criminal charges.
Current law means anyone could be impacted. No criminal charges are necessary for the police to confiscate your property. Once confiscated the responsibility is on the citizen to prove the property is in no way connected to a crime.
Who It Impacts
Why It Matters
The possibility of abuse is problematic and is why strong transparency is important. Because the citizen is tasked with proving the property was not used for a crime, the citizen is on the hook for all costs to fight the confiscation which could impact low income individuals.
Can the Police REALLY Confiscate My Property Without Convicting Me Of A CRIME?
YES, your property can be taken away from you
simply based on suspicion of it being used in a crime.
Civil Asset Forfeiture in Georgia:
Where is the Transparency?
In March 2020, the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) released its findings from a nearly year-long investigation into civil asset forfeitures in the state of Georgia.
In our efforts to assess transparency for the process, the GCO research team was led through a labyrinth of disconnected data and reporting tools. This combined with surveys of those reporting resulted in our 60-page report.
We came away with a better understanding of how the system can be addressed. This report is intended to ensure that civil asset forfeiture is not misused, but instead is a true asset to fighting crime.
What We Learned
Current records make it impossible to verify if assets confiscated are actually linked to a crime.
Recent laws in Georgia have created new reporting mechanisms that provide much-needed insight into civil asset forfeiture and how confiscated funds are used.
However, these reports do not provide case numbers that would allow for counting the total number of cases, cost per case, or even whether those involved actually committed a crime.
In addition to this, reporting mechanisms do not have safeguards to ensure that funds are used in accordance with the law.
“Good Luck Finding It”
While the reports are online and a webpage exists to find the public reports, the site itself is hard to find and not readily accessible. There is no easy navigation to the reporting tool from the Carl Vinson Institute for Government website.
Once you are able to find the reporting tool, it is a labor-intensive process to access each report for validation.
Recommendations For Change
1. Revamp the reporting site to make it easier to update for law enforcement entities.
A large percentage of the reporting was disjointed or hard to evaluate based on the structure of the data. New changes to reporting tools would make it easier for law enforcement to use the tools and will likely increase engagement.
2. Revamp navigation on the report website.
Easier and clearer navigation to the reporting portal and expanded categories for reporting will allow greater public accountability.
3. Update search and query tools on the reporting website.
Similar to the navigation issues the reporting portal needs expanded search and query tools to allow users to easily research a particular case or law enforcement entity.
4. Create a system for reviewing submitted reports.
Currently there is no check or validation reports are being submitted with the proper information in a format usable for the platform. Creating a system or way to validate reports upon submission will reduce the need for checks later in the process.
5. Create a secure web-based reporting system.
In addition to creating a system that would track individual cases, a reporting system should be put in place. This would allow better state oversight and the ability to identify descrepencies on case-by-case basis.
6. Randomized compliance audits
Random audits of law enforcement entities would create an accountability structure not currently offered by the system. Under the current structure there are no checks and balances in place to confirm all entities are reporting accurately.