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South Carolina

South Carolina

South Carolina earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

Standard of Proof

Low bar to forfeit: Once the government seizes property, the owner must prove by preponderance of the evidence that it is not connected to a crime.

Innocent Owner Burden

Poor protections for the innocent: Third-party owners must prove their own innocence to recover seized property.

Financial Incentive

Large profit incentive: 95% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement (75% to police and 20% to prosecutors).

Recent Reforms

  • (2019) State Court Ruling in po: Found South Carolina’s civil forfeiture laws unconstitutional. At time of publication, case was on appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Recommendations

  • End civil forfeiture
  • Direct all forfeiture proceeds to a non-law enforcement fund
  • Strengthen protections for innocent third-party owners
  • Close the equitable sharing loophole
  • Adopt strong transparency and accountability requirements

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019

Between 2009 and 2018, South Carolina law enforcement agencies forfeited nearly $97 million under state law. Between 2000 and 2019, they generated an additional $103 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $200 million in forfeiture revenue. South Carolina ranks 17th for its participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. The state does not prevent state and local agencies from using equitable sharing to circumvent state forfeiture law.

At least $200 million in state and federal forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year South Carolina Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 Unknown $1,298,766 $182,000 $1,480,766
2001 Unknown $1,199,110 $156,000 $1,355,110
2002 Unknown $3,641,683 $179,000 $3,820,683
2003 Unknown $3,560,979 $909,000 $4,469,979
2004 Unknown $4,893,591 $1,291,000 $6,184,591
2005 Unknown $3,005,058 $1,012,000 $4,017,058
2006 Unknown $4,414,456 $186,000 $4,600,456
2007 Unknown $2,877,220 $491,000 $3,368,220
2008 Unknown $4,761,356 $828,000 $5,589,356
2009 $11,252,857 $5,400,255 $4,410,000 $21,063,112
2010 $27,293,327 $4,669,454 $2,014,000 $33,976,781
2011 $10,283,445 $6,414,020 $397,000 $17,094,465
2012 $5,575,337 $4,676,816 $3,618,000 $13,870,153
2013 $8,589,587 $5,198,224 $2,457,000 $16,244,811
2014 $6,525,077 $4,456,240 $3,322,000 $14,303,317
2015 $10,233,492 $4,280,780 $1,413,000 $15,927,272
2016 $7,473,777 $1,920,772 $4,910,000 $14,304,549
2017 $5,665,498 $1,195,492 $1,320,000 $8,180,990
2018 $4,058,329 $3,964,619 $383,000 $8,405,948
2019 Unavailable $1,504,895 $364,000 $1,868,895
Totals $96,950,726 $73,333,786 $29,842,000 $200,126,512

All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation.

South Carolina's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

D

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

F

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

F

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

C

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

Incomplete

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

A

No reporting requirements to enforce.

For full transparency and accountability grades, visit www.ij.org/TransparencyReportCards.

Forfeitures Under South Carolina Law: Key Facts

Median Value

UNKNOWN

South Carolina does not report property-level data necessary to calculate median forfeiture value.

Property Types

UNKNOWN

South Carolina does not report the types of property forfeited.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

South Carolina does not report whether forfeitures are processed under civil or criminal forfeiture law.

Expenditures

UNKNOWN

South Carolina does not report how forfeiture funds are spent.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Forfeiture records were obtained via public records request to the South Carolina State Treasurer. Figures presented are calculated estimates of statewide forfeiture proceeds based on fiscal-year deposits to the state general fund, which receives, by law, 5% of all forfeiture proceeds. Equitable sharing data are from DOJ’s and Treasury’s annual forfeiture reports. Due to differences in reporting and accounting practices, state figures may not match aggregate numbers produced by the state or cover the same 12-month period as the federal data.

Legal Sources

Standard of proof: The government must show probable cause for the seizure, and the owner must show that the property is not forfeitable by a preponderance of the evidence.

S.C. Code Ann. §§ 44-53-520(b), -586(b); Pope v. Gordon, 633 S.E.2d 148, 151 (S.C. 2006).

Innocent owner burden: Owner.

S.C. Code Ann. §§ 44-53-540, -586(b); Pope v. Gordon, 633 S.E.2d 148, 151 (S.C. 2006).

Financial incentive: 95% (75% to law enforcement, 20% to prosecutors).

S.C. Code Ann. § 44-53-530(e).

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