Civil forfeiture is taking someone’s property if law enforcement officers believe someone used it in a crime. Many critics believe that this is a violation of an individual’s constitutional rights. Additionally, there is concern that it causes law enforcement to abuse their power since they get to keep all the funds.
Despite these concerns, it is legal in Georgia. However, state, local, and federal forfeitures are subject to severe restrictions. Here is a bit more on the legality of civil asset forfeiture.
Civil vs. criminal asset forfeiture
Civil cases are often defined as issues between two citizens, whereas criminal ones are between a private individual and the state. That means that the law handles civil cases differently than criminal ones. For example, both instances involve the police seizing someone’s assets. However, in a civil asset forfeiture, the police take someone’s property without charging them for a crime, claiming that the property itself is the defendant.
To enact civil asset forfeiture, a law enforcement agency must be able to invoke one of these justifications:
- Punishment or determent
- Increase agency cooperation
- Strengthen law enforcement
These are why law enforcement would seize someone’s property, whether they charge the individual with a crime or not. That said, it has also raised the issue of whether or not this is legal since people could see it as a fine in addition to charges. However, the Supreme Court ruled that this was the punishment of property. Therefore, it is constitutional if law enforcement claims the right reasons.
If you have experienced a civil asset forfeiture, you must prove your innocence and reclaim your property. Unfortunately, if it is a case of joint ownership and the other owner is guilty of a crime, you cannot retake your property despite your innocence.