Police departments in South Carolina have made millions of dollars by seizing money and property from citizens in the past three years. The justification is that criminals shouldn’t keep their dirty money, but often, law enforcement isn’t taking money from hardened criminals.
Under current law, a criminal conviction is not necessary for police to seize someone’s money or property. In fact, a criminal charge is not even necessary. If you’re pulled over for speeding, a police officer can take your money and any number of items that they wish.
For example, an investigation by The Greenville News revealed that in 2016, police took $29,000 from a man’s car after he was speeding on the interstate. The same investigation revealed that police seized $4,670 from a woman after she dropped off her friend, who was wanted in a drug distribution investigation. Both of these cases were completely legal.
The people of South Carolina could play an important role in ending this practice. There is currently a bill in the South Carolina legislature that would abolish civil forfeiture and replace it with criminal forfeiture. The bill would require a felony conviction before law enforcement could seize money and property. It would also stop police from using the money for their own budgets, and instead, they would have to put the money into the state’s general fund.
Police shouldn’t be able to just take any amount of money that they feel like. In many of the cases investigated by The Greenville News, the people who had their property taken weren’t even convicted of a crime. If no criminal conviction is needed, police are allowed to basically walk into any home they wish or stop any car that they want and take people’s personal property; just because they felt like it.
At what point does this end? Where is the line drawn to stop this? Police should not be able to claim someone else’s money and use it however they please. With the current rules of civil forfeiture, police can basically claim money and then go off on an all-expense-paid trip to Disney World. How is this legal? How is it that we as U.S. citizens have allowed this to be accepted?
This isn’t just a problem that s being faced in South Carolina. It is something that states throughout the country are facing.
Really, this issue seems to fall into the category of unlawful search and seizure, which begs the question of what policies should be in place to ensure that money coming from criminal activity is justly repurposed. Actually, there are a number of concerns surrounding civil forfeiture beyond the monetary ones. For example, the findings of The Greenville News showed that many of the instances of these seizures – 65 percent, in fact – are targeted toward black men, with their chances of reclaiming their property being far below that of others.
When we first discovered that this was being debated in the South Carolina legislature, we were unnerved, because currently, we are vulnerable to yet another potential abuse of power in our country. So we would like to encourage you to take action and call your representatives and tell them your thoughts on the current bill. It’s time for South Carolina to make a positive change and do what it can to protect innocent people.