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Court of Appeals Dismisses Georgia Asset Forfeiture Case

July 9, 2014

In Bullock v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to dismiss the State’s forfeiture complaint. The Court held that the State failed to hold a hearing within 60 days after service of the complaint as required by O.C.G.A. § 16-13-49(o)(5).

The State initiated asset forfeiture proceedings against personal property and Bullock was personally served with the complaint on February 5, 2013. After Bullock timely filed her answer, a hearing was scheduled for March 28, 2013. The trial court granted the State a continuance for good cause because of a serious illness in the prosecutor’s immediate family. Bullock did not object to the continuance. The hearing was rescheduled for April 18, 2013 (within 60 days after the March 28 date).

Because of an administrative error, the court erroneously thought that Bullock’s attorney had a conflict. The court continued the hearing on its own, without a motion from either party. The hearing was then scheduled for June 14, 2013 based on the assumption that the second continuance was for good cause. On the June hearing date, Bullock made a motion to dismiss the complaint for failing to hold the hearing within the time period required by the statute.

Georgia asset forfeiture law provides that “if an answer is filed, a hearing must be held within 60 days after service of the complaint unless continued for good cause.” It is the State’s duty to ensure that the hearing is held within this time period. In the order denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the trial court admitted that the second continuance was granted because of an administrative error. Thus, the second continuance was not for good cause.

The Court of Appeals held that since the hearing did not take place within 60 days from the last continuance for good cause, the trial court erred in denying Bullock’s motion to dismiss the forfeiture complaint.

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