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Cash Seizures and Forfeitures in Georgia

If a law enforcement officer seized your cash or other valuable property in Georgia, contact an experienced civil asset forfeiture attorney. If a state agency seized the property, an attorney can help you file a motion for a probable cause hearing to be held within 30 days and file a claim demanding the immediate return of the property.

Georiga has some of the worst forfeiture laws in the United States. Additionally, Georiga law makes civil asset forfeiture provisions largely secret with little transparency despite the reporting requirements contained in the Georgia Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedures Act of 2015.

You can level the playing field by hiring an attorney who can fight the forfeiture in state or federal court.

30 Day Deadline to File the Written Report with the DA’s Office

The law enforcement officer who seized property for civil asset forfeiture only has 30 days to report that seizure to the district attorney’s office in the county where the asset was seized.

The report concerning the seizure must be in writing and include an inventory of the property with estimates of the value of the property seized.

60 Day Deadline for the DA to Initiate the Forfeiture

After receiving this written report about the seized property, the district attorney had 60 days from the date of the seizure to file a complaint for forfeiture before the judicial circuit court or initiate a quasi-judicial forfeiture.

If the law enforcement officer does not report the seizure to the District Attorney’s Office within 30 days or if the District Attorney does not file a complaint or initiate a quasi-judicial forfeiture within 60 days, then the property must be released back to the person from whom it was seized or the interest holder upon request.

Sometimes the property is “held as evidence” under 7 O.C.G.A. § 9-16-7, which might further delay the release of the property.

Georgia’s Quasi-Judicial Proceedings For Property Valued at $25,000 or Less

Georgia’s process for quasi-judicial forfeiture proceedings apply if the property is valued at $25,000 or less.

In quasi-judicial forfeiture proceedings, the district attorney must post information about the seizure in a prominent place in the courthouse. The posting must include a statement that the owner or interest owner of the property has 30 days to file a claim with the district attorney’s office.

Furthermore, the district attorney must serve a copy of the notice to the owner, interest holder, or any person who had been in possession of the property at the time of the seizure.

If the district attorney receives a verified claim for the property, the district attorney must file a complaint with the court to continue the forfeiture proceedings.

If no claim is made for the property within 30 days after the posting, then the property is forfeited to the State of Georgia and disposed of pursuant under the procedures outlined in O.C.G.A. § 9-16-11.

When the law enforcement officers seize U.S. Currency (money or cash), then the district attorney is required to deposit the currency in a separate account at a financial institution as required by O.C.G.A. § 9-16-10.

The district attorney may require the law enforcement agency that seized the property to maintain its custody under its disposition. Alternatively, the district attorney might decide to move the seized property to storage for safekeeping.

Court Order for the Disposition of Property Worth More than $25,000

If the property worth over $25,000, a court order is necessary for its disposition. The proceeding for seized property worth more than $25,000 might involve either an in rem against the property as explained in O.C.G.A. § 9-16-12; or an in personam proceeding against a specific person as explained by O.C.G.A. § 9-16-13.

For forfeiture proceedings in Georgia, the state has the burden of showing, under a preponderance of the evidence standard, that the property is subject to forfeiture.

Under O.C.G.A. § 9-16-17, the property is not subject to forfeiture if the owner or interest holder can establish that he or she:

  • was not privy to the alleged conduct giving rise to the forfeiture, henceforth, the conduct
  • did not consent to the conduct
  • did not know of the conduct
  • should not have reasonably known of the conduct
  • did not stand to acquire substantial proceeds from the conduct
  • did not jointly own the property with those who committed the conduct in transportation conveyances
  • did not own the property for the benefit of the person who committed the conduct
  • purchased bona fide the property from those who committed the conduct without knowingly taking part in an illegal transaction
  • acquired interest in the property prior to the completion of the conduct, among other conditions specific to holding interest and knowledge of the transactions and conduct.

After the quasi-judicial or the full judicial process has been completed, and it has been determined that the property is forfeited to the State of Georgia, then the district attorney is required to submit a proposed order concerning the distribution to the court.

The order must include the law enforcement agencies and multijurisdictional task forces involved in the action that resulted in the forfeiture.

As required by O.C.G.A. § 9-16-19, the district attorney is further required to provide a copy of the order of distribution to the law enforcement agency and to the chief executive officer of the agency’s political subdivision.

Georgia Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedures Act

The Georgia Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedures Act of 2015 created a process for the seizure of property for forfeiture. The asset forfeiture proceeds are classified as “civil” in nature because non-criminal proceedings are used instead of criminal proceedings.

Most “civil asset forfeiture” cases involve allegations of drug trafficking. The seized property might include the illegal drugs, or other valuable property used to transport or delivery of the drugs, property use to purchase the drugs, or the proceeds from drug trafficking transactions.

In addition to drug trafficking, civil asset forfeiture cases might involve allegations of Title 16 (Crimes and Offenses), including:

  • offenses relating to the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO);
  • gambling offenses;
  • pimping a prostitute out of a motor vehicle; or
  • high-jacking of motor vehicles.

Asset forfeiture is also found in non-Title 16 provisions of the law, including violations related to hunting, trademarks, dumping waste in storm water systems, water well drilling without a license, deep oil drilling, the distillation or manufacture of spirits.

After the asset is seized by law enforcement, it goes through the uniform procedures outlined in the Georgia Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedures Act of 2015.

How Forfeited Assets are Distributed and Spent

For the following types of cases, the funds are first used to restore losses to innocent parties and then divided among the participating law enforcement entities, including the district attorney. Those four types of cases include:

  • Banking and Finance Code relating to laws for records and reports of currency transactions (O.C.G.A. § 7-1-910, et seq., or Article 11)
  • Human trafficking (O.C.G.A. § 16-5-46)
  • Residential mortgage fraud (Article 5 of Chapter 8 of Title 16)
  • Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Chapter 14 of Title 16).

For all other types of cases, the property forfeited in the same proceeding is pooled together, and the order of distribution is as follows:

  1. distribution is made to pay for court costs and other costs, including court costs incurred by the law enforcement agency or multijurisdictional task force;
  2. ten (10) percent of the pool is distributed to the district attorney’s office for “official prosecutorial purposes”;
  3. distribution goes to the law enforcement agencies and multijurisdictional task forces on a prorata basis based on the roles they played that resulted in the forfeiture as provided by O.C.G.A. § 9-16-19.

As explained in O.C.G.A. § 9-16-19, the term “official prosecutorial purpose” is defined in include the following types of expenditures:

  • the payment of salaries and benefits in conformity with subsection (e) of Code Section 15-18-19 and Code Section 15-18-20.1;
  • reimbursement to a governing authority for a pro rata share of the indirect costs incurred by the governing authority for a common or joint purpose benefiting the district attorney’s office and other local government agencies which are not readily assignable to any particular agency;
  • the payment of matching funds for state or federal grant programs that enhance prosecution, victim, or witness services to the community or judicial circuit;
  • victim assistance and witness assistance services;
  • the purchase, lease, maintenance, and improvement of equipment;
  • training related to the official functions of the district attorney;
  • travel expenses that conform to the provisions of law;
  • language interpreters or interpreters for the hearing impaired;
  • forensic services;
  • appeals;
  • trials;
  • hearings; and
  • investigations.

As provided in O.C.G.A. § 9-16-19, the currency cannot exceed more than 33 1/3 percent of the agency’s appropriated budget. The currency from forfeiture must not supplant any funds appropriated for staff or operations or to pay for salaries or rewards to law enforcement personnel, but it may be distributed to local LEAs or multijurisdictional task forces may be used “for any official law enforcement purpose” at the discretion of its chief executive officer.

This article was last updated on Friday, April 16, 2021.

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