The Woods Law Firm

South Carolina Asset Forfeiture Defense Lawyer

Columbia SC Criminal Lawyer

What Is Civil Asset Forfeiture?

Civil asset forfeiture is covered under federal law at 18 U.S. Code § 981 and essentially allows the government to seize any real or personal property that it believes is connected to the commission of certain crimes, including drug crimes, crimes against other governments, fraud or felony offenses.

South Carolina law more specifically identifies property that can be seized by the government as part of civil asset forfeiture. This process is often used in drug busts, but it has also been used to take away property in DUI cases, counterfeiting operations, gang-related crimes and crimes that involved vehicles. S.C. Code Ann. §§ 44-53-520 gives state and local authorities the right to seize property involved with illegal criminal activity, such as:

  • Real property
  • Aircraft
  • Motor vehicles
  • Equipment used to manufacture or deliver controlled substances
  • Anything used as a container for controlled substances
  • Trailers
  • Boats
  • Money
  • Other items of value

The ease of taking away people’s valuable property and money has quickly become a problem in South Carolina because the law allows law enforcement agencies to seize property that is believed to have been obtained through illegal means or used for illegal activity – even if there was no conviction in any underlying criminal case. A news investigation revealed that South Carolina law enforcement agencies seized more than $17 million in money and other assets through civil asset forfeiture between 2014 and 2016. S.C. Code Ann. § 44-53-530(e) allows government agencies to keep this property for their own use, designating 75% of the value to the law enforcement agency that seized the property, 20% to the prosecutor and 5% to the State Treasurer. South Carolina lawmakers are actively working on making changes to the law to better protect the rights of citizens from unfair seizures, but necessary reform has not yet taken place.

The 2018 United States Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Timbs v. Indiana is likely to spur additional changes in state and federal law. In this case, the Court found that the state’s seizure of a defendant’s Land Rover that was suspected of being involved in the sale of drugs was considered an excessive fine that violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and that the right to be free from these types of fines extended to the states. Because the value of the vehicle was more than the maximum value of a fine that the defendant could have faced, the Court found that it was unfair to effectively fine the defendant an amount equal to the vehicle’s value. This decision will help people to reclaim their property that has wrongly been seized by law enforcement agencies and prevent the state from effectively stealing people’s property.

When your property is wrongly taken by the government, you need a strong legal team in your corner to fight for its return. The government doesn’t have the right to wrongly keep your property from you , but it also won’t willingly return your property without a fight. Our knowledgeable and experienced South Carolina civil asset forfeiture lawyers work diligently to have your property returned promptly and hold government agents liable for their acts against you.

What Are the Possible Penalties and Consequences that Go Along with Civil Asset Forfeiture?

In addition to facing the loss of any property that is remotely or tangentially related to a crime, South Carolina imposes many other penalties for individuals convicted of manufacturing, delivering, purchasing or possessing a controlled substance with the intent to distribute it. The possible penalty depends on the type of drug involved, its quantity and relevant criminal history. Defendants may face the following criminal consequences for crimes involving a controlled substance classified as a Schedule I (b) and (c) drug or a Schedule II narcotic:

  • First offense – Imprisonment up to 15 years; fine up to $25,000, plus costs, fees, and assessments
  • Second offense – Minimum mandatory imprisonment term of 5 years, maximum imprisonment of 30 years; fine up to $50,000, plus costs, fees, and assessments
  • Third or subsequent offense – Minimum mandatory imprisonment term of 10 years, maximum imprisonment of 30 years; fine up to $50,000, plus costs, fees, and assessments

How Can a South Carolina Civil Asset Forfeiture Lawyer Help You?

Here at the Woods Law Firm, we have extensive knowledge of the civil asset forfeiture process. We are ready and able to serve your needs. We have over 24 years of experience and three convenient office locations throughout the state of South Carolina to provide the greatest reach to our clients. Our exceptional staff assists our seasoned attorneys. We will fight to have your property returned to you in a prompt manner and use our extensive knowledge on the civil asset forfeiture process to secure the best outcome for your case.

What Areas Does the Woods Law Firm Serve?

South Carolina consists of 46 counties. Greenville, Richland and Charleston Counties are the largest in the state. Civil asset forfeiture cases are filed in the court of common pleas for the jurisdiction where the items were seized, according to S.C. Code Ann. § 44-53-530.

In Which Court Will My Civil Asset Forfeiture Case Be Tried?

The main courthouses that deal with civil asset forfeiture cases in Greenville, Richland and Charleston Counties are listed below.

Greenville County

Greenville County Circuit Court

305 E. North Street
Greenville, SC 29601
(864) 467-8551
Chief Magistrate: Mark C. Edmonds
List of other judges in Greenville County Circuit Court
Court Clerk: Paul B. Wickensimer
Court hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday – Friday

United States District Court for the District of South Carolina

Clement F. Haynsworth Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse
300 East Washington Street
Greenville, South Carolina 29601
Phone: (864) 241-2700
Senior United States District Judge: Henry M. Herlong, Jr.
Court hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday (except federal holidays)

United States District Court for the District of South Carolina

Donald S. Russell Courthouse
201 Magnolia Street
Spartanburg, South Carolina 29306
Phone: (864) 241-2700
United States District Judge: Donald C. Coggins, Jr.

Richland County

Richland County Circuit Court

1701 Main St.
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
(803) 576-1950
Chief Justice: Jean Hoefer Toal (retired)
Court clerk: Jeannette McBride
Court hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday – Friday

Charleston County

Charleston County Circuit Court

100 Broad St., Suite 106
Charleston, South Carolina 29401
(843) 958-5000
Judges: Deadra L. Jefferson, Roger M. Young, Sr.
Court clerk: Julie J. Armstrong
Court hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday – Friday

What Are the Consequences of Failure to File?

South Carolina law allows you to fight the taking of your property in this manner, but you must act fast. The prosecutor files a petition with the applicable court “within a reasonable time period” after your property was seized and state the basis for why it was seized. You must quickly challenge the seizure and assert your rights before the prosecutor is awarded the property.

To protect your property rights, you must be able to meet the required burden. Our skilled civil asset forfeiture lawyers can assert arguments such as:

  • The money or property was not used to commit a crime
  • The money or property did not derive from criminal activity
  • You were not aware that the property was used to commit a crime

If you fail to assert your rights, the government can keep your property and use it to fund government activities and supplement law enforcement activities. It can list your property at public auction. Even your spouse may lose his or her rights to the property if you don’t challenge the seizure. These are complicated cases that require the assistance of a skilled litigator who can fight to protect your rights.

What Is the Attorney Fee for Civil Forfeiture and/or to Recover My Property?

The Woods Law Firm understands the unfairness of having your property wrongly taken from you. We do not charge any upfront attorney fees to get started on your case. The attorney fee is paid as a percentage of the funds recovered. If there is no recovery, there is no fee. Because you don’t have to pay until we recover, you don’t have to worry about paying any expensive legal fees since we just take the percentage off of the amount recovered.

Contact a Skilled South Carolina Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney for Help Reclaiming Your Property

If you need immediate help recovering your property and you don’t know where to turn, trust the lawyers at the Woods Law Firm. We can quickly and efficiently answer your questions and get started on your case. You can get help now by calling or texting our attorney personally at (843) 999-1106. You can also contact our office at (864) 298-8111, email us at thewoodsfirm@gmail.com or complete the online contact form. We are dedicated to you and will take all steps to help you recover the property that was unjustly seized from you.