COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA)- After a South Carolina judge ruled in favor of a defendant, who had his property seized by law enforcement, South Carolina lawmakers started to look closely at the state’s civil asset forfeiture statute.
Earlier this month, a special subcommittee of state representatives discussed changes that can be made to revamp the laws, focusing on what property can be seized and the process law enforcement departments would have to go through to take that property.
“In Lake City, 4 years ago, the Lake City police department seized $250k from a traffic stop. That person was not charged with any crime. The money was seized,” said Representative Cezar McKnight expressing his concerns about the civil asset forfeiture laws in the state.
The group of lawmaker is trying to tackle issues with the current processes.
Representative Tommy Pope chimed in, “We want to think about the process required to seize, what items are subject to seizures, getting rid of roadside waivers, protecting parties rights, the forfeiture process itself.”
Right now, law enforcement can seize a person’s property just by having probably cause.
Representative Pope added, “I think probably the most shocking and what got this started is all the forfeitures you hear of without criminal charges and I think that’s concerning for both republicans and democrats.”
But law enforcement departments carrying out these seizures say officers act in good faith when taking a person’s property.
“The agents with the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office aren’t going to find money. They’re going to the house because the sheriff has been blowing up about all the dope being sold out the house,” explained Doug Barfield, an attorney for Lancaster County.
However, many say without clear definitions the current statute creates inequity.
Circuit public defender, Chris Scalzo highlighted some issues he’s seen on the judicial side.
“If you get to basics asset forfeiture was always meant to be connected to a crime, as a way to prevent further crimes and as punishment of a crime that has been committed. A figure of 20% of those charged with a crime were not convicted had asset forfeiture is not a reliable system. I wouldn’t say that’s a justice system.”
Lawmakers will also take a look at how the funds from this property seized is distributed to law enforcement departments across the state.
According to data at that hearing, in the past 3 years more than $17 has been seized from South Carolinians.