WASHINGTON, D.C. - The South Carolina Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report on Civil Asset Forfeiture in South Carolina.
In the report, the South Carolina Advisory Committee concluded that civil asset forfeiture does not accomplish its intended purposes of defunding organized crime or reducing illicit drug use. Instead, half of the forfeitures are for less than $1,000, and these seized funds and property are funneled into accounts accessible to the police department that seized it, allowing these agencies to use the property for their own benefit above and beyond the funding appropriated to them.
The Committee advised the Commission to call on the South Carolina General Assembly to pass legislation to protect the federal and constitutional rights of South Carolinians. This legislation should include:
- Moving seizure proceedings from civil to criminal courts in the state;
- Requiring a criminal conviction prior to the seizure of property;
- Providing for the reimbursement of attorney’s fees for prevailing property owners in seizure proceedings in which their assets are returned by the courts;
- Requiring the amount of property seized be proportional to the underlying crime in accordance with federal and state constitutional prohibitions on excessive fines and fees;
- Limiting seizures to admissible evidence;
- Requiring a statewide annual reporting process be developed that includes a searchable public database that details which entity/agency seized the property, the circumstances that led to these assets being seized, information about the people (age, race, gender), and a report of the expenditures of such funds.
“The Committee learned that civil asset forfeitures are seemingly not driven by public safety needs but rather by funding needs for law enforcement agencies,” said Chair Ted Mauro. “In South Carolina, civil asset forfeiture has few procedural safeguards and no formal reporting requirements of what is seized from whom and why. The due process and property rights of the state’s residents deserve protection, particularly when this policy seems to disproportionately impact communities of color. We call on South Carolina’s leadership to address this damaging policy.”