Georgia > Transparency Laws on Seizures Coming

| April 3, 2015
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This Lake Oconee Precinct building and police cruiser were purchased entirely with forfeiture funds in Putnam County. AJC Photo


ATLANTA — Georgia law enforcement officials and prosecutors would face new transparency and reporting requirements if they try to seize an individual’s property under legislation passed unanimously Tuesday by the Senate.

Because the Senate amended House Bill 233 during debate — by adding language extending felons’ ineligibility to serve on grand juries —it now goes back to the House for review.

The bill overall aims to set new rules for how officials may use civil forfeitures to take money from drug dealers and other criminals. It represents a compromise after lawmakers have tried for years to create guidelines and limitations on when an individual’s property can be seized as part of a criminal investigation.

Previously, sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors have always managed to block the bills, but this year they acknowledged changes are needed. “This is the culmination of three years of work,” said state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2013 that many Georgia law enforcement agencies aggressively pursue civil forfeiture claims to boost department funding and to buy equipment. The AJC also reported that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard used thousands of dollars seized in civil forfeiture proceedings to pay for wrought-iron security doors for his house and for football tickets, and he gave $6,000 to a lawyers group that inducted him into its hall of fame.

Gov. Nathan Deal called for a closer look at civil forfeiture laws after the AJC’s stories were published, and the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia changed its reporting procedures for district attorneys.

Atlanta Journal Constitution

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