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.
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.
Why 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.