Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
As much as 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement
State Forfeiture Laws
Under Georgia law, which earns a grade of D-, the government need only prove by a preponderance of the evidence that seized property is connected to a crime or that there is no other likely source for the property other than criminal activity. Property owners who file an innocent owner claim bear the burden of proving that they neither knew about nor consented to any illegal uses of their property. Worse, joint owners of vehicles are not even permitted to bring innocent owner claims in Georgia. State law provides no way for them to petition for their vehicle or to get a share of it back. And Georgia law provides a strong incentive to seize: Up to 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.
Historically, Georgia has had very little oversight of forfeiture activity. Although state law required agencies to report forfeiture proceeds and expenditures, reports provided online by the Carl Vinson Institute for Government at the University of Georgia were unusable. Too few agencies reported, and the reports on file were inconsistent. A 2015 law will require all law enforcement agencies to use standardized forfeiture reports when filing reports with the Vinson Institute. It remains to be seen whether this reform will improve forfeiture transparency in the Peach State.
State Law Sources
Standard of proof
Preponderance of the evidence. Ga. Code Ann. § 9-16-17(a)(1).
Innocent owner burden
Owner. But in cases involving a jointly owned vehicle, no innocent owner claim is allowed. Ga. Code Ann. § 9-16-17(a)(2).
Up to 100 percent. Ga. Code Ann. § 9-16-19(f).
Local law enforcement agencies and multijurisdictional task forces are required to file forfeiture reports with their governing jurisdiction and state agencies and district attorneys with the state auditor. All agencies are required to also submit their reports to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. Ga. Code Ann. § 9-16-19(g). https://ted.cviog.uga.edu/financial-documents/asset-forfeiture
Georgia ranks 45th for federal forfeiture, with over $243 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.
State Forfeiture Data
No reliable data yet available. Agencies are required to collect, but actual reporting rates have been inconsistent and data provided were unusable. A 2015 reform will require standardized reporting by all agencies starting January 31, 2016.
Federal Equitable Sharing
Georgia law enforcement agencies also seek equitable sharing proceeds at an alarming rate: The state ranks 45th for equitable sharing. From 2000 to 2013, Georgia law enforcement received more than $243 million from the Department of Justice’s program, an average of more than $17 million each calendar year. Nearly three-quarters of these proceeds came from joint task forces and investigations—the type of equitable sharing forfeitures largely unaffected by the DOJ’s new policy. Georgia agencies also brought in $44 million in Treasury Department equitable sharing proceeds between fiscal years 2000 and 2013..