Navigating Georgia's Forfeiture Laws
Under Georgia forfeiture laws, local law enforcement agencies may file a civil claim to property used in the drug trade. Actually, the agencies may seek to obtain property even if it's merely found in close proximity to illegal drugs or otherwise believed to have ties to crime.
Under Georgia code section 16-13-49, the following property is considered contraband and subject to forfeiture laws:
- All illegally possessed controlled substances (drugs) or materials used in their production
- All property directly or indirectly used to facilitate the drug trade
- All weapons used to facilitate felony drug offenses
- Any money, negotiable instruments, or anything of value found in close proximity to any controlled substance or marijuana
Once a law enforcement agency has seized any property under Georgia's forfeiture laws, they must report the property and facts surrounding its seizure within 20 days to the local District Attorney's office, who is responsible for handling the claim. The DA's office then has 60 days from the date of the seizure to file a complaint for forfeiture. Additionally, the DA must give notice of the seizure to any party not present at the time of seizure. Usually, notice will be given by personal service, certified mail, or publication.
If the property subject to forfeiture has a value of $25,000 or less, then the DA's office is allowed to follow a procedure that expedites the process of a forfeiture proceeding. Once the notice requirements are met, the property owner then has 30 days to file a claim to the seized property. If no claim is filed within the 30-day window, then the property goes to the state without any further hearings or inquiry. Additionally, the property owner will also have to answer the filed complaint within 30 days or service, or risk loosing any rights in the property. Once a complaint has been filed and answered, a hearing must be set within 60 days of the date of service.
Recently, Georgia's forfeiture laws have come under attack for their potential for abuse by local law enforcement agencies. In a story run by the ajc.com, different cases of abuse of the forfeiture system were examined, showing just how easy it can be for property to be subject to forfeiture without any real, valid basis for the seizure. Georgia lawmaker's attempts to pass laws that would add transparency to the forfeiture process have been met with harsh resistance by law enforcement agencies around the State.
If you have had property seized and believe it could be subject to forfeiture, call our offices for more information on the process. The requirements to claim your property and fight for its return are full of pitfalls and deadlines that make it tough to fight a forfeiture case alone. Both Mr. Zeliff and Mr. Watson have handled forfeiture proceedings and negotiated the purchase or buyback of property in these situations. For a no-cost consultation on how we can help you regain your property, call us today at (770) 676-1340.