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Are the state's civil asset forfeiture laws patently unfair?

When it comes to combating drug crimes, law enforcement officials here in Georgia have a multitude of tools at their disposal from sophisticated surveillance technology to confidential informants. Interestingly enough, there is another tool that law enforcement says is indispensable in its war on drugs, but which critics says does nothing more than create an improper profit motive.

The tool in question is civil asset forfeiture, which essentially enables law enforcement to confiscate property from an individual if there is either probable cause or it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that it's somehow connected to criminal activity.

Indeed, the state's civil asset forfeiture enables law enforcement to confiscate property even if the person from whom the property is taken is neither convicted nor charged.

For their part, law enforcement officials argue that civil asset forfeiture enables them to hit drug dealing activity exactly where it hurts most, while simultaneously providing their departments with badly needed revenue. They also point out that there are sufficient remedies in place for people to reacquire their seized property.

Interestingly enough, there has been movement to reform the civil asset forfeiture laws to create greater transparency as to the assets seized by law enforcement and how they are being used.

To that end, the General Assembly passed a law last year requiring law enforcement agencies to submit asset forfeiture reports to the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

Some lawmakers, however, have indicated that further legislative action is required.

State Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) introduced House Bill 832 this year, which would have required a conviction in order for law enforcement to keep property secured via civil asset forfeiture.

While the legislation failed to make it out of committee thanks to strong pressure from law enforcement, Turner has vowed to continue his efforts.  

“You’re innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “I think it goes against our core values of due process. This is not a new idea; this is something as old as our nation."

What are your thoughts on the state's civil asset forfeiture laws? Are they fair or do they need to be reformed?

Whether you are under investigation or have been formally charged with any sort of drug crime, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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