In Georgia, there is the "Georgia Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedure Act." This act guides the process used in the courts when the government seeks to take property from its citizens.
Who Files Forfeitures and Where?
The local prosecutors are responsible for filing for forfeiture proceedings. They can file the action in a few different places. It is, however, most common for the forfeiture proceeding to take place in the county where the conduct leading to the proceedings occurred.
Seizure of a Vehicle
Vehicles are one of the most common things seized by law enforcement. Sometimes the person that owns the vehicle is not present when the vehicle is seized. In that scenario, the seizing officer has to try and find out who owns the car and inform that person their vehicle has been seized.
Seizure of Property in General
Any officer who has the authority to make arrests has the power to seize property in Georgia. Officers can take your property without any sort of process in court if the property is seized because of an arrest, a search warrant, or an inspection warrant (inspection warrants are commonly used in animal cruelty cases).
Reporting the Seizure
When cops take people's property they have 30 days to report the seizure in writing and conduct an inventory of the property. Additionally, they must estimate the value of the property and provide the estimation to the district attorney.
When the district attorney receives this paperwork they have 60 days to:
1. Initiate a quasi-judicial forfeiture; or
2. File a complaint for forfeiture.
These timelines are absolutely critical! You must examine them because if the officer or the district attorney fail to comply the property will be released to the owner unless it is being held as evidence. It is, however, possible that the DA will convince the judge to put conditions on this release pending a forfeiture action.
Does a Forfeiture Proceeding have to wait Until a Criminal Case is Over?
A judge can postpone forfeiture proceedings during a criminal case if the property owner or the prosecutor can provide a good reason.
Burdens of Proof and Presumptions
The prosecutors must prove only that it is more likely than not that the property seized is subject to forfeiture. This is much lower than standard than to convict someone of a crime.
Unfortunately, sometimes property is seized and a forfeiture notice is filed even though the owner of the property was actually uninvolved in everything that led to the forfeiture.
The property will not be forfeited if the owner can show that:
- The owner is not privy to the criminal conduct
- The owner did not consent to the conduct
- The owner did not know about the conduct
- The owner did not know the conduct was likely to occur
- The owner should not have reasonably known the conduct was likely to occur.
- The owner did not acquire and was not going to acquire substantial proceeds from the conduct
- With respect to conveyances for transportation only, the owner did not hold the property in conjunction with another person whose conduct gave rise to the forfeiture.
- If the owner can show that they do not have the property for the benefit of someone whose conduct gave rise to the forfeiture and if the owner received the property from the person whose conduct led to the forfeiture they have to show they obtained the property in a legitimate way; and
- The owner can show they gained an interest in the property
- Before the conduct leading to forfeiture was complete and the person causing forfeiture didn't have permission to give/sell the property; or
- After the conduct leading to forfeiture is complete the owner
- received property as a legitimate buyer
- The owner gained an interest in the property and at that time was without cause to believe the property was going to be subject to forfeiture; and
- The owner gained a property interest before the filing of the forfeiture lien and before the effective date of the notice of pending forfeiture and was not notified of the forfeiture.
In these forfeiture actions, the courts assume that the property should be forfeited if the state prosecutors can show it is more likely than not that
- The owner has engaged in conduct giving rise to forfeiture
- The property was acquired by the person during the period of the conduct giving rise to forfeiture or within a reasonable time after such period; and
- There was no likely source for the property other than the conduct giving rise to forfeiture.
What Happens to the Property the Government Takes from Its Citizens?
The answer is unlikely to surprise you. The prosecutors receive about 10% (of course they do) and the cops usually get the rest.
The cops usually use this money to purchase fancy cars, tanks, and things like that that government employees do not need.