LITIGATION BACKGROUNDER

South Carolina Civil Forfeiture

Case asks court to end “policing for profit” and restore South Carolinians’ expectation that they are innocent until proven guilty

Civil forfeiture is one of the biggest threats to property rights in South Carolina. It allows law enforcement to take cash, cars, homes and other property from South Carolinians without so much as charging —let alone convicting—the owner with a crime and then profit from the proceeds. Now, the Institute for Justice (IJ)—a nonprofit, public interest law firm—is representing a property owner in an ongoing forfeiture lawsuit to ask the South Carolina Supreme Court to end the controversial practice once and for all.

Last year, prosecutors seized and then tried to permanently take Travis Green’s money. The judge in that case asked both parties to address whether South Carolina’s forfeiture statutes pass muster under the federal and state constitutions. After hearing both sides, the judge ruled that those statutes violate people’s rights to due process and to be free from excessive fines. As a result, the judge concluded that officials couldn’t try to forfeit Green’s or anyone else’s money in his judicial circuit. Prosecutors quickly appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which prompted the Institute for Justice to get involved.