SC lawmakers push to reform civil forfeiture

SC lawmakers push to reform civil forfeiture

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Around 80 South Carolina state representatives signed a bill to reform civil forfeiture. The bill was filed Tuesday, it would allow law enforcement to only seize property with a criminal conviction.

"Civil forfeiture has to do with the forfeiture of property, property owned by an individual when that property has been involved in criminal activity,” said Rep. Alan Clemmons.

Under civil forfeiture laws, police can take cash, guns, or cars if they believe those items are related to illegal drug sales.

Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson explained criminal and civil forfeiture are different.

In a criminal forfeiture case, you would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

In civil forfeiture, law enforcement would have to prove that it’s more likely than not that that money or items came from illegal drug sales. In these cases, law enforcement agencies can keep the items seized, and use it specifically to help with the prevention of future drug sales.

"I’ll be honest with you, if they shut down drug seizures, which it looks like they’re intent on doing, Myrtle Beach is going to be fine, it’s not that much money, Horry County would be fine. I think some of the towns around Darlington, it would hurt them tremendously. It would hurt small jurisdictions with smaller budgets tremendously,” said Richardson.

The Institute for Justice came out with a study saying South Carolina is abusing civil forfeiture for money, calculating that $22 million was seized from 2009 to 2013. However, Richardson said he doesn’t believe any abuse is going on in this area.

“There’s due process and the law is pretty tight. You’ve got to basically have the drugs sitting on top of the money to do it correctly and I do think we do it correctly here. I can’t attest for everyone else in the state.”

WMBF News investigated the number of civil forfeitures in the Myrtle Beach area.

Between 2014 and 2016, Myrtle Beach police seized more than $176,000. It’s based on data WMBF News obtained from the Greenville News, which gathered the information during its statewide investigation into civil forfeiture.

The money was obtained from 88 case throughout the two years, involving 89 people.

Around 66 percent of those cases resulted in a conviction. Twenty-seven percent of the cases charged individuals but did not convict them. And only four involved no charges against the individuals.

Of the $176,000 seized, 88 percent of it was kept by the police department.

In that two-year time frame, the department also seized two cars and five guns.

WMBF News is looking at data involving other police agencies in our area and we will share what we find with you in a future investigation.

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