CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina lawmakers and advocacy groups are pushing efforts to reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture law.
The law allows law enforcement to seize money or items that are suspected to have been made illegally. Local law enforcement agencies can retain 75% of the forfeiture proceeds, while 20% goes to prosecutors.
“Under current law, law enforcement can pull you over driving down the street, search your car and if they find cash, they can say ‘I think it was involved in this crime,’ and they can take that cash,” ACLU SC executive director Frank Knaack said. “It becomes your burden to prove in court that you got it lawfully, and because it’s a civil forfeiture you’re not even entitled to council. If you don’t have access to funds to hire an attorney, you don’t get your money back, even though it’s your money that you earned lawfully.”
House Speaker Pro Tem Tommy Pope recently introduced a bill that would prevent police from seizing property unless charges have been filed.
“If they took your property, the prosecutor would then have to convict you of that crime and then they would have to show a connection between that property and that crime, so it should be common sense for everyone,” Knaack said.
Although this bill is just one of the most recent efforts, organizations like the ACLU, Americans for Prosperity, and the Institute of Justice have been working with lawmakers to reform the law for years.
Andrew Yates is the state director of Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots conservative organization. He says this effort transcends political lines.
“This isn’t about Republican or Democrat and left or right. This is about right and wrong and uniting people across our state to stand up and fight for our constitutional rights,” Yates said. "
The South Carolina Supreme Court is currently hearing a case challenging the constitutionality of civil forfeiture.