Arlington, Va.—Georgia has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws and practices in the country, but a lawsuit filed today by the Institute for Justice (IJ) and five concerned Georgia citizens seeks to change that.
Civil forfeiture laws allow the police to seize your home, car, cash or other property upon the suspicion that it has been used or involved in criminal activity. In an attempt to ensure civil forfeiture is subject to public scrutiny, Georgia law requires local law enforcement agencies to annually itemize and report all property obtained through forfeiture, and how it is used, to local governing authorities.
But many, perhaps most, local Georgia law enforcement agencies fail to issue these forfeiture reports, thus turning forfeiture proceeds into off-budget slush funds shielded from public view. A new report, Forfeiting Accountability: Georgia’s Hidden Civil Forfeiture Funds, finds that among a random sample of 20 law enforcement agencies, only two were reporting as required. Of 15 major agencies in Georgia population centers, only one produced the required report. Yet federal data show Georgia agencies taking in millions through forfeiture. Examples of abuse with these funds include a Georgia sheriff spending $90,000 in forfeiture funds to purchase a Dodge Viper, and the Fulton County DA office using forfeiture funds to purchase football tickets.
“Law enforcement should follow the law,” said Anthony Sanders, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm launching today’s challenge. “Yet many Georgia law enforcement agencies simply chose to ignore Georgia law. This is a breach of the public trust and a betrayal of taxpayers.”
Georgia’s forfeiture practices concern Georgia citizens, including IJ clients Ryan Van Meter, Anna Cuthrell, Joseph Kidd, Josiah Neff and Tsvetelin Tsonevski, all taxpaying residents of Atlanta and Fulton County. Their lawsuit seeks to force the head officers of the Atlanta Police Department, Fulton County Police Department and Fulton County Sheriff Department—all of which regularly fail to produce mandated forfeiture reports—to disclose the property they have seized under applicable Georgia forfeiture statues along with how they have used that property.
“Civil forfeiture is one of the greatest threats to private property rights in our nation today,” said IJ client Ryan Van Meter, a native Georgian, Atlanta resident and taxpayer. “Law enforcement can take your property without even charging you with a crime. For law enforcement to fail to even account for what they seize only makes this already bad problem worse.”
For more on today’s lawsuit and report, which are part of IJ’s nationwide campaign to protect private property rights from abusive forfeiture laws, please visit www.ij.org/GAForf.