CONWAY, SC (WBTW)- South Carolina lawmakers tried to pass sweeping changes to the state’s civil asset forfeiture law, but it stalled in the Senate.
House Speaker Jay Lucas called on solicitors including Jimmy Richardson to join a committee to rewrite the statute when the legislative session picks back up in January.
Now, local law enforcement agencies can seize cash, cars, houses, or any property from suspects they believe may be involved in a crime. A newspaper investigation revealed South Carolina law enforcment agencies seized more than 17 million dollars in just three years.
The investigation shows 20 percent of those who had items seized were never charged with a crime and another 5 percent were found not guilty. Local agencies retain 70 percent of that money to pay for equipment and training to fight the war on drugs. Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said he’s seen issues in smaller agencies.
“I think that everybody needs some oversight. I think there needs to be a standard way of doing all of it,” said Richardson.
Under civil forfeiture, if an agency makes a seizure, they file a suit against the cash or property and the owner has to prove it’s not for or from illegal activity. State solicitors including Richardson are working to rewrite the statute making it a criminal asset forfeiture which would shift the burden of proof to beyond a reasonable doubt.
Richardson said charges would be filed and forfeiture would be based on conviction.
“If this bill passes, the vast majority of time, an arrest will be made with it. There would be an exception to where if a person was going to work as a confidential informant,” said Richardson.
Going through the criminal court system things could take longer and create issues for smaller agencies.
“So if a case takes two years, let’s say you seize a vehicle you’re going to have to store that vehicle and make sure its mainting its original condition for two years,” said Chief Deputy Tom Fox with the Horry County Sheriff’s Office.
The Greenville News reported that in more than half the cases, less than 1,000 dollars was seized.
“There should be a currency limit 5,000 or 10,000 before you attack the currency,” said Fox.
Richardson said this is an opportunity to set standards across the state.
“You don’t seize monies unless it’s for distribution or possession with intent to distribute or trafficking cases. We don’t seize it if it’s just simple possession of marijuana or simple possession of heroin,” said Richardson.
Solicitors will submit their statute to lawmakers next week.