COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Some South Carolinians have had their money, cars or homes taken by law enforcement without even being charged with a crime.
This is allowed in South Carolina. Law enforcement needs probable cause to take your property if they believe it was obtained through illegal means or used for illegal activity.
Representative Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) is an attorney, he said, “When I walked into my office and I said how many clients had money taken by law enforcement and no charges were filed. My office started riddling off name after name. Situation after situation. County after county.” This is something lawmakers want to stop.
Representative Alan Clemmons (R-Horry) filed the Asset Forfeiture and Private Property Protection Act (H.3968). He said, “The way we're doing it today is un-American. The legislature created that process. So now it's time for us to look at what's happening and change it accordingly.”
The bill has more than 100 sponsors and bipartisan support. H.3968 wants to abolish civil asset forfeiture in South Carolina. The bill requires a criminal conviction before property can be seized.
According to the non-profit libertarian public interest law firm, Institute for Justice, from 2009 to 2014, law enforcement in South Carolina seized an estimated $22 million of forfeiture proceeds.
Rep. Clemmons said according to a recent investigative story from the Greenville News, “In twenty-percent of all the forfeiture cases in South Carolina there was never a charge.”
Law enforcement say they are not necessarily against the bill. They believe exceptions should be made instead of entirely abolishing the law.
They say these forfeitures are important in stopping drug trafficking and other criminal activities in the state. Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said, “We’re doing it properly. We’re not taking people’s money. We’re not standing on the side of the road saying give us the money or you’re going to have to wait for 45 minutes until a dog gets here. We don’t do it that way.”
The bill would also change the potential incentive asset forfeiture creates. According to South Carolina law, 95% of forfeiture proceeds can be retained by local agencies. (75% to law enforcement and 20% to prosecutors).
Rep. Alan Clemmons said, “The legislature sees policing and public safety as it’s number one duty and responsibility. We are going to fund public safety at appropriate levels.”
The Judiciary Constitutional Laws subcommittee gave a favorable vote on a bill that would created a public online database on forfeitures cases in South Carolina. This will add more transparency to the process.
The Asset Forfeiture and Private Property Protection Act remains in subcommittee. A meeting is scheduled next week to discuss the bill.