Making a “Clean Break” from Civil Asset Forfeiture in Georgia

By Russ Coker

The topic of civil asset forfeiture, the practice of law enforcement seizing and holding property even if the owner is never charged with or convicted of a crime, has made the news recently both in Georgia and nationally.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation focuses frequently on civil asset forfeiture. Many other policy organizations and grassroots groups, both conservative and liberal, have decried the practice. Regrettably, its status remains the same after the most recent Georgia legislative session.

While the last reforms Georgia made were meaningful, the result has been somewhat underwhelming. There should be transparency through increased reporting.  Unfortunately, there is no real accountability for missing information and some confusion in the reporting process itself, as the Foundation reported recently.

Many still hold out hope, however, for meaningful, bipartisan reforms that protect the innocent while maintaining tools that law enforcement requires to keep citizens safe.

Georgia State Rep. Scot Turner has worked doggedly to enact what he maintains should be the next step in the reform process, to mirror reforms in other states such as Ohio and California. Specifically, Turner hopes to add a statutory requirement to delay forfeiture proceedings (after law enforcement has physically seized the items) until a criminal conviction or acquittal is reached for the owner.

In the event there is no conviction, this would prevent the troublesome situation when the owner of the property is not convicted but faces an uphill battle seeking the return of the property, sometimes requiring the expensive assistance of an attorney.

Turner, along with other proponents for civil asset forfeiture reform, understands that law enforcement will always need certain tools and abilities to keep the public safe, but that certain protections can be put in place to prevent unjust takings without any meaningful downside to law enforcement.

While the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council formed by Gov. Deal’s initial reform package legislation several years ago has tackled many other issues such as parole and probation, civil asset forfeiture has yet to receive a “round two.”

The Foundation is encouraged that Turner and his allies hope to match the progress in other states and advance greater criminal justice reform efforts in the state by bringing the issue back to the table under the Gold Dome.

Ross Coker is Director of Research and Outreach of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (May 16, 2017). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.

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