There are several different types of forfeiture, but the focus of this article will be civil forfeiture in Georgia. In Georgia, civil forfeiture is the legal process by which law enforcement agencies can confiscate personal property including cash, automobiles, homes and land when the property is used in the furtherance of criminal activity.
Civil forfeiture proceedings are separate from the criminal proceedings, which may have initialized them in the first place. That said, it is important to note that the outcome of the criminal proceeding against a person has no direct impact on the forfeiture proceeding against the property. A person can be found not guilty of the criminal charge from which the forfeiture arises, but still lose their property to forfeiture.
Civil forfeiture proceedings are against the property itself, not the person. So, it is possible you will see case titles like “United States v. 123 Main St” or “United States v. $300,000”. The theory behind forfeiture is that the property has done wrong and committed a crime and, once the property has committed a crime, the government can take it. It may sound a little silly, but when it comes to forfeiture, the property is the “criminal” and needs to be punished. So, while it sounds odd, forfeiture is a long standing legal concept that has lasted for centuries. In fact, it comes from Roman and medieval English law.
Moreover, unlike criminal proceedings in which the burden of proof for the state is “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” in civil forfeiture proceedings the burden of proof shifts from the state to the property owner. The property owner then has to prove that their property was not used in furtherance of criminal activity or assert some other defense.
In many instances the forfeiture process is used to fight the “war on drugs.” A lot of forfeitures arise out of cases involving narcotics or the suspicion of transporting or dealing narcotics. An example of a case where forfeiture arises is when police find marijuana growing in the basement of a house. Afterwards, the state, county, city, or other agency with jurisdiction would be able to bring forfeiture proceedings against the house. And if successful, they will be able to assume possession of the house and sell it or do whatever else they see fit with the house.
Another example where forfeiture can arise would be if you loaned your car to a friend who used it to deliver drugs. The state could initiate forfeiture proceedings alleging that the car had been used in violation of drug laws.
But, just because the state or other local agencies initiate forfeiture proceedings does not mean that the property is automatically lost. Check back next week for more about who forfeiture affects and what defenses and other options are available when faced with forfeiture. If you would like learn the legal basis of Georgia forfeiture, check out GA Annotated Code, Section 16-13-49.
If you or someone you know has questions about your legal rights in a Georgia civil forfeiture case, please call The Boddie Law Firm at 404-287-2393.
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