SC Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws – A Formula for Theft, Greed, and Public Corruption

SC Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws – A Formula for Theft, Greed, and Public Corruption

SC’s civil asset forfeiture laws need reform. Now.

A bill that would have implemented reforms to SC’s forfeiture laws, House Bill 3968, has reportedly stalled in the House and will not be passed this year.

The proposed law included tightening of record-keeping requirements, requiring property subject to forfeiture to be named in a criminal indictment, and preventing state officials from transferring a case to federal court solely to circumvent SC forfeiture laws.

A separate bill, however, that would create a central database of seizures and forfeiture funds has passed the House and is now waiting for approval by the Senate.

Why Did SC’s Proposed Forfeiture Reforms Not Get a Vote?

SC legislators are saying that the proposed forfeiture law, based on model legislation that is being introduced in legislatures across the country, will cause issues with existing SC forfeiture laws and therefore must be studied further before it gets a vote.

SC law enforcement officials, on the other hand, have expressed loud and clear that they like the forfeiture laws and do not believe change is necessary.

What the Legislature Says

SC legislators are stalling any vote on the new SC forfeiture laws, citing a need to further study SC’s existing forfeiture laws and craft a “better” bill:

“Form bills don’t fit every state,” Clary said. “We wanted to make sure that when we put forward a bill that it is going to do the job that we intend for it to do.”

Clary, too, said he believed lawmakers rushed to introduce the reform bill before realizing how broadly reform would impact state law.

“Once we really started to analyze it, we realized that there were just too many unanswered questions about it and things that we realized were inconsistent with what we wanted to do in South Carolina,” he said.

More likely, prosecutors and law enforcement officials, who have a huge conflict of interest as the beneficiaries of millions of dollars each year from forfeitures and are hugely influential in the State House, are lobbying the legislature to stop the bill’s passage…

What the Sheriffs Say

What do law enforcement officials say? We need to study the bill further to make sure we are protecting our state’s citizens? No

Horry County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tom Fox is echoing the same refrain heard from law enforcement nationwide – civil asset forfeiture is a great tool for going after criminal enterprises:

Fox said the current proposed bill will “greatly hinder” the office’s ability to fight illegal activity and could end up costing taxpayers.

“In it’s complete form that it is now, we oppose it completely because it really hinders law enforcement’s ability to attack criminal enterprises,” Fox said…

Fox said the idea behind the practice is to target the motive behind illegal activity.

“One good way to hurt a drug dealer is to go after their ill begotten gains and hit them in the pocketbook,” Fox said.

It lets us go after human traffickers. It lets us go after the drug dealers. Think about the children…

Except, this has been the argument for forfeiture laws from day one. The problem is, the forfeiture laws are used to go after ordinary people as well as drug traffickers and pimps. The argument sounds good on paper, but, in practice, SC’s forfeiture laws are often used to steal money, vehicles, and property from citizens without fear of accountability or repercussions.

Why will it be an epic fight with law enforcement to reform the forfeiture laws? From 2009 to 2014, SC raked in an estimated $22,677,048 in state forfeiture funds. Sound like a lot?

From 2000-2013, SC law enforcement also took $18,125,000 as their share of federal forfeitures, while the US Dept of Justice kept $56,207,475…

What’s the Problem with SC’s Forfeiture Laws?

I’ve written about SC forfeiture laws and the issues they create many times:

SC forfeiture laws as they are written now put the burden on citizens to prove that their property is legitimate. Assuming they comply with the forfeiture law, law enforcement must show that there is probable cause, an extremely low standard, that money or property is connected to drug sales. Then, the property owner must prove where their money came from…

In practice, law enforcement:

  • Seizes relatively small amounts of money from motorists, knowing that the motorist is not likely to challenge it because the cost of an attorney will be greater than the amount of money taken;
  • Gets motorists to sign consent orders on the side of the road giving their money to the police;
  • Seizes vehicles and other property that is owned by innocent third parties, forcing the owner to either relinquish their property to the government or prove that they are innocent third parties;
  • Conducts “traffic enforcement” at key locations on interstates, stopping and searching cars on pretexts with the primary goal of seizing money from motorists; and
  • Fights to keep funds even after they receive proof that the funds are legitimate.

Why? Not because they are going after criminal organizations, drug traffickers, and human traffickers. It’s because it is a primary source of income for law enforcement. SC’s forfeiture laws are a formula for theft, greed, and public corruption.

Law enforcement agencies nationwide are addicted to forfeitures. They have evolved so that their budgets depend on forfeiture funds. A culture of competition has evolved where officers are rewarded based on the amount of cash they seize from motorists.

Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone the Latest to be Charged with Embezzlement of Forfeiture Funds

South Carolina has 46 counties, each with its own sheriff. In the past ten years, 11 of those sheriffs have been indicted and charged with breaking laws – often embezzlement charges, and some involving forfeiture funds. That’s one in four SC sheriffs that have been indicted for misconduct in office just in the past ten years…

The latest is Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone, who was indicted last week by a SC grand jury on charges that he embezzled forfeiture funds “to buy window tinting services, floor mats, tools and groceries.”

I’ve heard plenty of anecdotal stories from local attorneys who have sued Boone – the following exchange reported in the Post and Courier pretty well sums up the sheriff’s attitude, flush with forfeiture funds and believing that he is above the law and beyond accountability:

Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone tried to put three rooms on the county’s tab — two rooms for himself and a third for a retired sheriff.

The finance director, Kevin Yokim, asked for an explanation. Boone then sent an email:

“Kevin,

“I don’t have to get permission from you for anything that I do. … This is the last time that I will give you any explanation on anything that I do. Don’t question me again. …

The finance director answered that he had to “ensure that county funds are expended for a valid public purpose.”

Boone left a voicemail threatening to send a deputy to Yokim’s house “to find your ass. Call me now!”

And then another:

“Kevin, Kenney Boone, again. I don’t know what your deal is putting your nose in other people’s business. … You haven’t seen hell yet because I’m coming back and I’m going to take it away from all y’all and do whatever I need to do.”

SLED investigated the incident, but the attorney general decided not to prosecute, a spokesman calling the exchange unprofessional and rude but not a crime.

Hubris.

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Columbia, Lexington, and Myrtle Beach SC

Lacey Thompson only accepts criminal defense cases in the Myrtle Beach, Lexington, and Columbia, SC areas, including civil asset forfeiture cases connected to criminal charges or traffic stops.

If you have been charged with a crime or think that you are under investigation, call the Thompson Defense Firm now at 843-444-6122 or send us an email to set up a free consultation.

sc forfeiture laws

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *