Civil Asset Forfeiture FAQ

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Current Georgia law allows law enforcement to seize private property from people
without a formal charge or conviction of a crime. Georgia has received a poor reputation for
taking advantage of civil forfeiture laws, in some cases the courts violate suspect and third-party
rights by allowing law enforcement to keep 100 percent of assets when there have been no
official charges.

Lawmakers are not blatantly flouting the law. It is the broad language in Ga code § 9-16-
15 that sets a low threshold for courts to follow when it comes to civil forfeiture. Currently GA
Code § 9-16-15 states,
(a) For good cause shown by the state or the owner or interest holder of the property, the court
may stay civil forfeiture proceedings during the pendency of criminal proceedings resulting from
a related indictment or accusation until such time as the criminal proceedings result in a plea of
guilty, a conviction after trial, or an acquittal after trial or are otherwise concluded before the
trial court.
(b) An acquittal or dismissal in a criminal proceeding shall not preclude civil forfeiture
proceedings.
(c) A defendant convicted in any criminal proceeding shall be precluded from later denying the
essential allegations of the criminal offense of which the defendant was convicted in any civil
forfeiture proceeding against such defendant pursuant to this chapter, regardless of the pendency
of an appeal from that conviction; provided, however, that the evidence of the pendency of an
appeal shall be admissible. For the purposes of this subsection, the term ‘conviction’ means the
result from a verdict or plea of guilty, including a plea of nolo contendere.
The part of the law that causes problems for suspect rights is the part that states,
“For good cause … the court may stay civil forfeiture…during the pendency of criminal
proceedings”.
The language, “Stay of civil forfeiture”, gives the court the right to take property.

“Pendency of criminal proceedings” means during the trial. Which means before a guilty verdict
is reached by a Judge or Jury the owner could be stripped of their property – even if they are
innocent. “For good cause” means the court may take the property for a broad range of reasons, a
conviction being one. This language causes problems in legal consistency and precedent and is
subject to various interpretations of the law.

There is however, hope for Georgia citizens. In the last Legislative Session lawmakers
introduced a Bill to amend the language in code 9-16-15 in a way that would advocate for
suspects and take the ambiguity away from the courts. This practice is not unique, in our
neighboring state of North Carolina there is no civil forfeiture, only criminal forfeiture, meaning
the courts cannot take away property unless there is an actual guilty charge. Also, under criminal
forfeiture, the judge and jury would determine whether the defendant’s property should be
forfeited because of that crime.

 

If you have questions give us a call (404) 551-5684.


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