Vehicle Forfeiture Used in Drug Activity

Forfeiture of a vehicle that had been used in drug activity always gets people’s attention, and for good reason. The prevailing myth is that if you are caught with a joint in your car, the police can seize your car and sell it and use the money for themselves. In South Carolina, that is not the law, and a recent Court of Appeals case here helps to shed light on what the law actually is.
In this particular case, J.Gregory Hembree, Solicitor, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, on behalf of the Horry County Police Department v. James Albin, (Opinion No. 5142), Albin had owned a lounge where the police had reports of illegal gambling. When SLED investigated, they did uncover gambling and drug activity. This was discovered by an undercover operation, during which, Albin took the undercover agents into a motor home to smoke marijuana with him. When the search warrants were issued, SLED asked for the Horry County Police Department to assist. During the search, approximately four ounces of marijuana was found in the motor home.
The motor home was seized under the forfeiture statute (§ 44-53-520). The police used subsections (3) and (4) to seize the motor home, which details in part what may be seized. Paragraph (3) states “all property which is used, or which has been positioned for use, as a container for property…” and paragraph (4) states “All property, both real and personal, which in any manner is knowingly used to facilitate production, manufacturing, distribution, sale, importation, exportation, or trafficking in various controlled substances…”
The circuit court agreed with the solicitor and allowed the seizure of the motor home. However, Albin appealed, and for good reason. The Appeals Court ruled the motor home to be returned to Albin because the court must use the plain language of the statute. The problem for the state was that the police ignored paragraph (6) from the same statute. That paragraph deals with when vehicles (of which a motor home is one) can be seized. “…no motor vehicle may be forfeited to the State under this item unless it is used, intended for use, or in any manner facilitates a violation of Section 44-53-370(a) involving at least one pound or more of marijuana.”
According to the Appeals Court, since paragraph (6) specifically deals with motor vehicles, the police cannot use other subsections to try to morph the statute to suit their purposes in seizing the motor home. Basically, which it can be said to be a container, since the statute specifically deals with motor vehicles, the state must use that definition to describe the motor home, not another section.
The bottom line on this case is that if a vehicle was used to sell or transport more than a pound of marijuana, it will be seized. If it was less than a pound, the vehicle must not be seized. I hope this post is helpful, but if you have any questions about this or any legal issue, feel free to give my office a call at 843-822-9800, or email me at jimcourtneylaw@ymail.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply