House votes to tighten civil forfeiture rules

Law enforcement officials and prosecutors would face new restrictions and reporting requirements for seizing an individual’s property under legislation unanimously approved in the state House on Monday.

The House voted 154-0 to approve House Bill 233, that "brings more due process, brings reporting, brings definitions to what can be used and it puts some rules in place," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, said.

House leaders have tried for years to create guidelines and limitations on when an individual’s property can be seized as part of a criminal investigation. But sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors have always managed to block the bills.

Atwood said HB 233 is a compromise that has the support of former opponents and acknowledged the state’s civil forfeiture system has “come under fire” in recent years.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2013 that many Georgia law enforcement agencies aggressively pursue civil forfeiture claims to boost department funding and to purchase equipment. The AJC also reported that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard used thousands of dollars seized in civil forfeiture proceedings on wrought-iron security doors for his house, thousands of dollars of football tickets and gave $6,000 to a lawyers group that inducted him into its Hall of Fame.