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Chris Ledford from Georgia recently sent us this video take of his criticism of Georgia’s asset forfeiture regime:

In an attempt to avoid a question that I submitted to my local newspaper, Sheriff Chris Clinton of Towns County made harsh accusations directed toward me that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. The question was never published in the article to correspond with the response given by the sheriff, leaving the consumers of the Towns County Herald with new questions. Such as how could an attorney be used to intimidate law enforcement? And more importantly, leaving the question originally asked unanswered and unheard.

My question was for the sheriff of Towns County, Chris Clinton.

“If a person is found innocent of his or her criminal charges, any seized property is still subject to forfeiture pursuant OCGA 16-13-49. Most of the time this happens before a person is ever tried for the accusations against them. Legal representation is not provided for those who cannot afford to hire an attorney, making a forfeiture case difficult to win. My question is not about the legality of this issue, but rather the personal opinion of our sheriff in regards to this issue, since the option to pursue such a case is at his discretion. How does our sheriff feel about having the rights to a person’s personal property before they are even found guilty of a crime? Or after they are found innocent in a court of law?” –Chris Ledford

His response typical of many politicians these days, to change the subject by calling people names.

Was “recently it has come to my attention that brazen criminals are now attempting to intimidate witnesses, and law enforcement through attorneys, social media, the press, and other means. For these individuals I want to be very clear: As long as I’m allowed to serve as Sheriff, I will aggressively investigate and arrest ALL drug dealers.”

“By seizing their unlawfully obtained assets, which they did not work for, the incentive to commit the crime is taken away. That is in my opinion the reason the State of Georgia has decided that law enforcement should seize those assets –assets purchased with the proceeds of poisoning our children and our communities.” –Chris Clinton

Now, this might have been a good answer if I was asking for what the state of Georgia had originally intended for this law to do. And I’m sure the sheriff had good reason to completely ignore the fact that I’m talking about people who have never even been convicted of a crime.

But regardless of whether or not the sheriff chose to answer my question, or just simply beat around the bush a little bit. I think it’s a good question for every sheriff of every county in the state of Georgia, because it shows the moral character of the sheriff that the people elect in their county to serve and protect them. And I think most people would agree, that if a person is found innocent of the accusations against them, their property should be returned!

But I’m not trying to talk to you about the morality of police these days, or how bias the media can be. Instead, I’m trying to bring to your attention something far more important! A law so unjust, so unconstitutional, that it questions the very freedoms that our country was founded on. I’m talking about civil forfeiture.

And I know most of you are probably thinking about what society has come to accept when it comes to the seizure of property and its involvement with criminal activity. Which is if you get caught committing a crime, the police are going to take your stuff! But this commonly thought of criminal procedure is not to be mistaken for civil forfeiture.

Civil forfeiture as Sheriff Clinton pointed out, was designed to penalize a person engaged in criminal activity. I would never debate this. In fact, I agree that if a person is found to have committed a crime, they should be punished accordingly. But to deprive that person of certain procedural rights, such as the right to jury or the right to counsel, and to force that person to represent themselves in a case with such a direct relation to their criminal case that any question they answer could have a devastating effect on the outcome of that criminal case. To label a person guilty as charged! …Well these are just a few of the reasons that I strongly stand against civil forfeiture, and the government’s authority to legally rob hard working Americans all across the country.

Because you see, civil forfeiture is not just a way to punish criminals. It’s a civil action against the property itself. This means you don’t even have to be charged with a crime before they can take your stuff! In fact, my studies from the US department of Justice have shown that up to 90% of Americans facing civil forfeiture are never even charged with a crime, much less convicted.

But the saddest part about this law is that it’s not even necessary in getting the same end result of its naive intentions for punishing criminals. That’s because There is already a criminal statute that allows the forfeiture of these same assets upon a person’s conviction. So why take a person to civil court for the possession of their property if those possessions are going to be taken anyways after a criminal proceeding? What kind of incentive could the government possibly have in doing so? Well, aside from being able to take from the innocent, Georgia allows 100% of the proceeds from civil forfeiture cases to go to local law enforcement. This offers a huge initiative for police to target an individual based on their property instead of their actions

Now people, we need to reform civil forfeiture law, And I’m not the first person to realize this. In fact, There are many organizations out there who are fighting for our rights, and will continue to do so as long as our freedoms are in jeopardy. One of which, a litigation team known as the Institute for Justice has already introduced the need to reform civil forfeiture law. They’ve gone to Georgia law makers with a proposal of three key elements. One being that law enforcement should not profit from civil forfeiture. Two being that an innocent owner not charged with a crime should have no problem getting their property back. And most importantly, A conviction should be required before civil forfeiture takes place!

But the truth is they need your help in getting this pushed through congress. That’s why I encourage each and every one of you to stand up for what you believe in. Let your representative know that you support the legislation designed by the Institute for Justice. And lets put an end to the hardships of civil forfeiture, and make our country a better place for tomorrow.

Addendum: The Institute for Justice’s model forfeiture legislation is here. AFR’s prior coverage of Georgia forfeiture issues is here.

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