Lax forfeiture law loaded with potential for abuse | www.myajc.com

4
May

Lax forfeiture law loaded with potential for abuse | www.myajc.com

“It is the best tool—the most effective tool—for me to take profits away from drug dealers, because they’re not scared of jail,” said Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, president of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association.

But critics say there is a danger of policing for profit. As agencies have come to rely on civil forfeitures to buy essentials like bullet-proof vests, they have an incentive to seize first and ask questions later. Forfeiture funds amount to 15 percent or more of the annual budgets of some departments, the AJC found, and sheriffs told legislators they’d be crippled without the money.

Yet what agencies take and how they use it remains largely hidden from view.

And by law, judges presume agencies have a right to the property, while departments can keep it even if the owner was innocent. In Gentile’s case, a Georgia State Patrol report did not say why officers thought a crime took place.

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