AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Forfeiture: Georgia was once one of the worst. Now? It's not so bad.

(Update and clarification. Jan. 20, 2017:

The recent Institute for Justice report rates only the transparency of the forfeiture process in each state, not whether Georgia’s civil liberties protections have improved. While legislators have passed reforms, IJ’s most recent ranking of those protections still gives Georgia a D-. )

A recent report from a libertarian group gives Georgia a C- for its laws on asset forfeiture, where law enforcement seizes property or cash because they suspect a crime took place.

All in all, that's an improvement. The Institute for Justice gave Georgia a D- in 2010, calling it one of the worst in the nation when it came to protecting residents from unjust seizures. Under civil forfeiture law, officers and prosecutors can keep the property even if no one is prosecuted for a crime. Agencies get to keep a cut of the proceeds, which critics say can encourage cash-strapped agencies to police for profit.

For owners, getting the property back can easily be more expensive than the property's worth, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found. Sometimes, the agencies that seized it used the proceeds for galas and perks instead of enforcing the law, the AJC found.

The state legislature revised civil forfeiture law in 2015.

So what has lifted Georgia from near failure to mediocrity? It requires agencies to report how it spends the funds online and withholds funds from those that fail to do so, according to the report. But the property needs to be better tracked, the IJ report states, and there's no statewide oversight body. Financial audits should also be required.

Reader Comments ...

About the Author