The Buckeye Institute: South Carolina’s Unconstitutional Forfeiture Laws Create Perverse Incentives to Use and Abuse Vast Police Powers

Oct 23, 2020

Columbus, OH – On Friday, The Buckeye Institute, jointly with Americans for Prosperity—South Carolina, filed an amicus brief opposing South Carolina’s unconstitutional asset forfeiture laws, which create perverse incentives for law enforcement to seize private property even when its owner hasn’t been convicted of a crime.

“When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously replied, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ This quip recognized the universal truth that financial incentives influence human behavior,” said Jay R. Carson, senior litigator at The Buckeye Institute’s Legal Center. “South Carolina’s unconstitutional forfeiture law, which allows the government to take and keep nearly 100 percent of a person’s property without requiring a criminal conviction, creates powerful perverse incentives to use and abuse the vast power of law enforcement.”

The brief was filed in the South Carolina Supreme Court and argues that the Palmetto State’s civil forfeiture laws—which allow law enforcement agencies to seize and keep property related to any criminal stop regardless of whether the person is even charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime—are unconstitutional.

The Buckeye Institute is an award-winning national leader in criminal justice reform whose innovative work has impacted tens of thousands of lives in the Buckeye State and successfully led the charge to reform Ohio’s civil asset forfeiture laws in 2016.

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UPDATE: On September 14, 2022, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws are constitutional but raised concerns about their fairness, referencing arguments The Buckeye Institute raised in its amicus brief. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for a jury trial to determine if the law is unconstitutional in this specific case or if the law was properly followed.