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What is civil forfeiture?

On Behalf of | Mar 1, 2018 | Criminal Defense |

People who face conviction for a crime in South Carolina know they can expect criminal penalties that may include imprisonment, fines and more. What many do not realize is that getting arrested can also result in losing some types of property through a process called civil forfeiture.

Both state and federal prosecutions can involve forfeiture. Because the forfeiture is civil and thus not technically a criminal penalty, many protections present in criminal prosecutions may not apply to this part of the case.

Property subject to forfeiture

Generally, law enforcement may seize property believed to be instrumental to the commission of a crime. Common types of crimes that can result in seizure include drug crimes, gang activity and RICO prosecutions.

Sometimes, it is easy to see the connection between the seized property and the criminal activity. Equipment used for forgery, firearms and drug-manufacturing equipment all come to mind.

Illegal property

Additionally, some items are illegal to possess whether or not police can show a connection to specific criminal acts. Examples include illegal guns, drug-manufacturing equipment and counterfeit money. Owning such items can lead to separate criminal charges. When police seize this kind of property, the offender will not get it back.

Connection to crime

However, other types of property may only be seized if they have a specific and strong connection to criminal activity. A house used as a place to manufacture or sell drugs can be subject to forfeiture, as can a car used to transport people or equipment for the purpose of committing a crime. Authorities may also seize property bought with proceeds of crime.

South Carolina law has specific guidelines for amounts and types of drugs that need to be involved before law enforcement can seize a motor vehicle. However, there can still be complicated factual and legal questions as to the extent of involvement and whether it justifies forfeiture.

Innocent owner

In some cases, the owner of the property may not know of its involvement in criminal activity. An innocent owner may be able to get the property back, but the process may not always be simple. If police take property, the owners should speak with an experienced defense attorney promptly.