HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Numerous defense attorneys are applauding a Horry County judge’s ruling on civil forfeiture laws.
Fifteenth Circuit Court Judge Steven John ruled that the state’s civil forfeiture laws are unconstitutional.
However, 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson disagreed with the ruling and has filed an appeal.
Richardson wasn’t surprised by the judge’s ruling and believes facts were omitted and ignored from the court‘s order claiming the law violates the eighth, fifth, and fourteenth amendments.
“We’ve been rewriting the statute, that would be better than where we are right now, which is you don’t know,” said Richardson.
For nearly six decades, the state’s forfeiture statutes allowed police to take away items or money gained from illegal operations and put it back into the department.
”That money will have to be replaced somewhere else or another budget or taxpayer funds may need to go up after that,” said Richardson.
Defense attorney Kirk Truslow said he’s viewed the law unconstitutional for years and was glad to see John’s ruling.
“I think the cases it should be used in are really a smaller number of cases, which are the larger drug cases,” said Truslow.
In the judge’s ruling, he references the arrest of Travis Lee Green, who was charged with distribution and trafficking of cocaine. In that case, over $20,000 was seized by police.
His attorney, Alex Hyman, released this statement on the judge’s ruling:
“This is an area of law that is being scrutinized across the country, and I am hopeful that our court system along with our state legislature will realize the issues with the current seizure and forfeiture laws.”
Currently, law enforcement must prove there’s more than a 51% chance the money or items seized by police came from illegal drug sales.
“If you rob a bank you shouldn’t be able to keep the proceeds from the bank robbery,” said Richardson.
While the judge’s ruling is appealed, Richardson believes seized items will sit in purgatory until a decision is reached.
“If the money goes back, the only place for the money to go is to the defendant who’s already told you, ‘I’m sitting here for selling drugs,’” said Richardson.
Members of the American Civil Liberties Union have shared their support of the judge’s ruling.
The appeal process could take months and even years to reach a definitively ruling.