Those assets come from drug dealers and other criminals caught by law enforcement officers, who can seize ill-gotten gains and turn them into surveillance equipment and other operational needs.
But one state lawmaker wants to change the state’s civil forfeiture law, saying he wants to protect people who may have had their assets unjustly seized.
State Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, said he wants to increase the burden of proof on prosecutors before the property is seized and protect those who may not have been involved in criminal activity.
For example, police pull over a driver and find drugs. The passenger may not have known about the drugs, but has money on him that is seized anyway. Under the proposed legislation, House Bill 1, prosecutors would have to have clear and convincing evidence that the passenger was involved in the drug deal.
“They have a responsibility to show someone is guilty,” Willard said.
Locally, the district attorney’s office gets 10 percent of the seized property or money under the current statute and the other 90 percent goes to the Rome Floyd Metro Drug Task Force, said District Attorney Leigh Patterson. Cars and vehicles are usually sold, she said.
The bill also addresses distribution of seized assets by other agencies. If the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or Georgia State Patrol seizes assets in a county, the state agency could only get 25 percent of those funds. There should be a more equitable distribution, Willard said.
John Barnett, commander of the Rome-Floyd Metro Task Force, said the salaries of the attached officers are paid for by their agencies — the Rome Police Department, the Floyd County Police Department and the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office — but his agency uses the seized money and assets for operating expenses.
Without the seized money, “we would have to be (fully) funded by the home agencies,” Barnett said.
An overview committee looks at expenditures from seized money, Barnett said, and large purchases have to be approved by the home agencies.
The Georgia Sheriff’s Association has spoken out against the proposed legislation.
Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter said he is against the bill because the money from the seized assets helps pay for items not in the budget.