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Horry County judge rules state’s forfeiture laws unconstitutional

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Published: Oct. 15, 2019 at 6:24 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) – A Horry County circuit judge has ruled South Carolina’s civil forfeiture laws violate the prohibition on excessive fines found in the Eighth Amendment, while also violating due process under the Fifth and 14th amendments.

The order was filed Aug. 28 by 15th Circuit Court Steven John following a request for briefs as to the constitutionality of the state’s forfeiture statutes, which allow police to take away money or items made from illegal operations and put it back into the department.

In reaching his ruling, John looked at the case of Travis Lee Green, who allegedly sold cocaine to agents with the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit.

Green was arrested and charged with distributing and trafficking cocaine, court records state. DEU agents also seized approximately $20,771 in cash from the defendant. On Nov. 10, 2017, the solicitor filed a complaint requesting the court approve the forfeiture of the money pursuant to S.C. code.

“This Court finds that South Carolina’s forfeiture statutes violate both the federal and South Carolina constitutional protections against excessive fines by permitting the government to seize unlimited amounts of cash and other property without regard to the proportionality of the crime that may have been committed,” John’s ruling reads in part. “Indeed, they allow the government to seize unlimited amounts of cash and other property when no crime has been committed, without a criminal conviction and without proof of a crime having been committed beyond a determination of probable cause.”

RELATED STORY: WMBF Investigates: Do civil forfeiture cases always hit their mark?

Back in February, 80 state representatives signed a bill to reform civil asset forfeiture.

The proposed bill was sparked by an investigation by the Greenville News, which revealed South Carolina agencies seized more than $17 million in three years.

John’s ruling can be read in full by clicking here.

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