Why Did Police Officers Seize My Car/Truck/TV??
Georgia has some of the harshest civil forfeiture laws in the nation.
If you get arrested and charged with crimes related to contraband, officers may seize and KEEP your property, like your car, truck, TV, and even your computer and gaming console, if they believe that your property (1) was used to facilitate drug transactions or (2) was purchased with funds from illegal drug transactions. This process is known as civil forfeiture. O.C.G.A. Section 16-13-49 The theory is that drug dealers should not profit from their crimes. To eliminate profit from the equation, the State has declared that no person has a property right in certain tangible and intangible material and that such material shall be forfeited to the State. The material includes:
- (1) Any controlled substances, raw materials, or controlled substance analogs that have been manufactured, distributed, dispensed, possessed, or acquired in violation of this article;
- (2) Any property which is, directly or indirectly, used or intended for use in any manner to facilitate a violation of this article and any proceeds;
- (3) Any property located in this state which was, directly or indirectly, used or intended for use in any manner to facilitate a violation of this article or the laws of the United States relating to controlled substances that is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year and any proceeds;
- (4) Any interest, security, claim, or property or contractual right of any kind affording a source of influence over any enterprise that a person has established, operated, controlled, conducted, or participated in the conduct of in violation of this article or the laws of the United States relating to controlled substances that is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year and any proceeds;
- (5) Any property found in close proximity to any controlled substance or other property subject to forfeiture under this Code section; and
- (6) Any weapon available for any use in any manner to facilitate a violation of this article.
The only exception is for a violation involving only one gram or less of a mixture containing cocaine or four ounces or less of marijuana unless such property was used to facilitate a transaction in or a purchase of or sale of a controlled substance.” O.C.G.A. Section 16-13-49(d)
Within 30 days after the property has been seized, the officer shall, in writing, report the fact of seizure and conduct an inventory and estimate the value of the property seized and provide such information to the district attorney. Within 60 days after the property was seized, the State must file a complaint for forfeiture or institute a quasi-judicial forfeiture pursuant to the “Georgia Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedure Act” . O.C.G.A. Section 9-16-1, et seq. If the officer or district attorney fails to comply, the property must be released on the request of an owner or interest holder, subject to various conditions, pending a complaint for forfeiture unless the property is being held as evidence. O.C.G.A. Section 9-16-7
Sometimes, the court may stay the civil forfeiture proceedings during the pendency of the criminal proceedings until such time as the criminal proceedings result in a plea of guilty, a conviction after trial, or an acquittal after trial or are otherwise concluded before the trial court. O.C.G.A. Section 9-16-15 Even if the criminal case results in an acquittal (a finding of “not guilty”) or dismissal, the civil forfeiture proceedings may continue, and the property may be forfeited. O.C.G.A. Section 9-16-15(b) In other words, you may win the criminal case but LOSE your truck, car, TV, or other property in the civil forfeiture action!
Defending a civil forfeiture case is complex and time-consuming. Attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation can quickly exceed the value of the seized property. Because the forfeiture case is not a criminal action, the 6th Amendment right to counsel does not apply, so she has to pay a private attorney from her own funds.
The laws governing civil forfeiture actions are constantly being revised and rewritten to fairly and reasonably accomplish the government’s legitimate goal of depriving wrongdoers of the profits of their bad deeds. However, when viewed from the property owner’s perspective, these laws can certainly seem heavy-handed and unfair. As with any complex legal matter, hire an experienced lawyer to defend a civil forfeiture action, for “a person who represents herself has a fool for a client.” – Abraham Lincoln