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Lawmakers look to revise unfair asset forfeiture laws

You may be fully aware of the possible consequences for a conviction of drug charges, especially distribution or trafficking. You might expect fines, imprisonment, community service and other penalties. Certainly, the burden of a criminal charge on your record will follow you the rest of your life.

However, what you may not expect after an arrest for certain criminal offenses is the confiscation of your property. Asset forfeiture is a common practice in South Carolina. State law allows law enforcement to collect any items they believe you may have obtained through the profits of the crime for which police have arrested you. Recently, however, some are protesting the practice of asset forfeiture as contrary to state and U.S. constitutions.

Where did my stuff go?

Upon your arrest for illegal activities, such as drug trafficking or white-collar crimes, police may collect any valuables they believe came from the proceeds of the crime. This may include your vehicles, your home, and cash or other items. Even if authorities fail to charge you or convict you of the crime, the items police take are forfeit, and you may not have them back without going to court. About 20% of those who lose property to asset forfeiture do not face charges for a crime.

You may also be surprised to learn that not all counties keep records of the assets police confiscate. While some provide public access to their forfeiture records and the way in which the county uses the proceeds from forfeited items, some have no information at all, so there may be no way to tell what happens to your property.

Waiting for new laws

Fortunately, South Carolina legislators are working on bills that would prevent authorities from seizing your property if no one has filed charges against you. Further, lawmakers want to limit the amount of cash or valuables police can seize. The bill suggests that the amount of seized assets should be high enough to be significant, but not enough for someone to take the time and expense to fight for it in court.

Meanwhile, you may be dealing with asset forfeiture that seems excessive and unfair. Whether you are facing criminal charges or authorities have not filed charges against you, fighting for your assets may be worth the time and effort. You can start by seeking the advice of an attorney who can provide an assessment of your case and guide you in taking the most appropriate actions for your situation.

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