Limited Asset Forfeiture Reform
H.3139 seeks to reign in South Carolina’s asset forfeiture laws; laws that currently allow law enforcement to seize and retain private property and monies law enforcement claims was connected to a crime, all without charging the owner of any criminal offense. The bill first seeks to prohibit law enforcement from retaining forfeited monies for more than 30 days without charging the rightful owner with a crime. The rightful owner would also not be required to sign a release absolving law enforcement of any civil liability in order to be returned his forfeited funds. The legislation also would remove much of the state provided incentive for law enforcement to engage in seizure of property by stipulating that cash over $1,000 and physical property as well as the proceeds from other seized property all be forwarded to the prosecuting agency. Under current law, law enforcement may keep seized property (such as vehicles) and retains 75 percent of both proceeds from the sale of any seized real or personal property and seized cash over $1,000.
These are worthwhile reforms that may provide some further protections to citizens’ property but they could go much further. In addition to the reforms provided by this bill, existing law should be amended to require that no personal property may be retained or sold by law enforcement without a criminal conviction of the original owner of that property. And forfeited property and the proceeds from the sale of such property should go to an entity that cannot funnel the money back to law enforcement and has no role in any part of the forfeiture process. Law enforcement should also have to publish data on the revenue from forfeiture and its specific sources. Finally, state law should prohibit SLED and local law enforcement from participating in any federal forfeiture programs that enable law enforcement to seize and retain the value of seized property by going around state law.