South Carolina cops love the state's civil asset forfeiture laws, which allow the police to seize any property they believe represents the proceeds of a crime and keep it, unless the property's former owner hires a lawyer to prove the innocence of their goods: more than $17m was seized last year, and in a fifth of these cases, no one was convicted of a crime (71% of the people whose stuff gets stolen by South Carolina cops are Black).
After a longrunning, deeply reported expose on civil asset forfeiture in South Carolina, the Greenville News contacted cops who'd used civil asset forfeiture to pad their budgets to get their take on things.
The most dramatic take came from the lobbyist Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association, who said that without the right to steal things from people without charging them with a crime or even arresting them (19% of forfeiture cases involve no arrest!), they wouldn't be motivated to go after drug dealers and other criminals.
Bruder is quoted as saying: "What is the incentive to go out and make a special effort? What is the incentive for interdiction?"
Asset forfeiture is one of the most perverse features of US law: in 2014, US cops seized more forfeited property from Americans than was stolen from them by burglars in the same year. Obama's DOJ was limited the practice, then stopped facilitating asset forfeiture altogether after Congress zeroed out the budget it had used for the program, and Congress came to the rescue again when Trump and Sessions tried to revive and expand forfeiture in 2017.
The states have a patchwork of forfeiture rules: Chris Christie vetoed a unanimous bill limiting forfeiture in NJ, and Illinois's forfeiture rules fund the Chicago PD's extensive black ops programs, DC is a forfeiture hellscape (as is Missouri) while Nebraska has banned forfeiture outright, and forfeiture is subject to strict legal oversight in Montana and New Mexico.
Former Mauldin Police Sgt. Ben Ford, who oversaw forfeiture for the city police before he recently became Travelers Rest police chief, said it's fair because people can fight to get their property returned in court.
Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller said it’s fair because people can choose to go before a judge. “That person may be able to justify that, but they’ll do that with an attorney,” he said.
But that due process isn’t in a criminal case with the requirement of proof. Instead, the burden is on the property owner to prove money wasn’t earned from illegal enterprise. Any costs to hire an attorney to fight the case are also borne by the individual.
SC cops defend keeping cash they seize: 'What's the incentive' otherwise? [Nathaniel Cary, Anna Lee and Mike Ellis/The Greenville News]
(via Lowering the Bar)