Judge standing by ruling on South Carolina civil forfeiture being unconstitutional

Local News

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – A judge is standing by his ruling on South Carolina’s civil forfeiture law violating both federal and state constitutional protections.

According to Solicitor Jimmy Richardson, Judge Steven H. John is standing by his decision from earlier in the year. Richardson and John met in open court on December 4 where John said he is standing by his ruling.

Richardson says that when the judge gives them an order they will appeal.

The Horry County case that prompted the ruling was the State vs Travis Lee Green. Green is serving a 15-year sentence for dealing drugs. Police seized more than 20,000 dollars in cash from Green after undercover officers bought cocaine from him three times. Police then executed a search warrant. John ruled it was unconstitutional to seize Green’s money using civil asset forfeiture statutes.

Representative Russell Fry agrees that the controversial practice is unconstitutional.

“Forfeiture of assets doesn’t have to accompany a charge, there’s no due process, there’s no judicial review of whether that’s excessive or not, there’s no real protection for the individuals,” said Rep. Russell Fry of Surfside.

A newspaper investigation revealed South Carolina law enforcement agencies seized more than 17 million dollars in just three years. Twenty percent of those who had items seized were never charged with a crime, and another five percent were found not guilty. Local agencies retain 70 percent of the money seized to pay for equipment and training to fight the war on drugs.

“We’re seeing abuse all over this state where assets are taken and people are never charged, and they have to go through a labyrinth of bureaucracy and they might get it back, they might not and that’s the problem,” said Rep. Fry.

“If a person is riding around with a bunch of coke, a bunch of money, a bunch of scales, and a bunch of guns, it’s going to be seized. What do we do once it’s seized is the question at this point,” said 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson.

One major issue for lawmakers the proposed statute tackles, is eliminating roadside waivers, where people sign consent forms to hand over their assets without an arrest and with little to no oversight.

“That was the thing they were most concerned with, and honestly I’m concerned about that,” said Richardson.

The proposed statute prevents that, and also creates a process for how the money seized is allocated. Richardson believes the 40 page statute addresses the big concerns.

“Seizures without an arrest, seizures even with an arrest of simple possession, those are prohibited by our statute,” said Richardson.

Now, it’s up to South Carolina lawmakers in 2020.

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