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ICYMI: Commentary: South Carolina must end civil asset forfeiture

Mar 16, 2020 by AFP

Americans for Prosperity-South Carolina State Director Andrew Yates and ACLU of South Carolina Executive Director Frank Knaack | Charleston Post and Courier

Did you know the government can take and keep your property without charging you with a crime? Intended as a tool to take the ill-gotten gains of drug kingpins who were beyond the jurisdictional reach of the Unites States, civil asset forfeiture is now used to seize cash, vehicles, boats, houses and other private property on the mere suspicion that it was involved in a crime.

It’s the tool the Richland County Sheriff’s Office used to try to take an elderly widow’s house in Columbia because some other people allegedly committed crimes near her property. It’s the tool South Carolina law enforcement used to seize more than $17 million for forfeiture from 2014 to 2016 alone, often without charging a person with a crime.

Civil asset forfeiture turns the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of the American justice system, on its head. And because the forfeiture process is a civil process, you have no right to an attorney. It’s time for South Carolina legislators to end this abusive program.

This two-tiered justice system disproportionately affects people of color. For laws to be just, there must be equal justice for all under the law, and our policies must reflect that in the Palmetto State.

Ending civil asset forfeiture and replacing it with criminal forfeiture would be a win-win. It would ensure the government proves under criminal due process that the individual whose property was taken committed a crime, and that the property seized was the product of, or facilitated, that crime. Law enforcement would maintain a tool to confiscate the fruit of crime while the burden of proof would be back where it belongs: on the government.

Click here to read the full op-ed.