Legal Blog

Georgia Court of Appeals Reversal in Asset Forfeiture Case

May 6, 2013

In Goodwin v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a judgment forfeiting $14,350 to the State due to the trial court’s failure to conduct a hearing within the 60-day time period required by Georgia law.

The Butts County Sheriff’s Office seized $28,700 from Goodwin’s car during a traffic stop, alleging that the money was tied to the possession, sale, and distribution of marijuana. On August 19, 2011, the State filed a complaint for forfeiture and Goodwin was served with the complaint on August 24th.  She filed a timely answer to the complaint in which she asserted that she personally owned half of the seized funds and that the money came from a variety of legal sources, including lottery winnings and tax refunds. She maintained that the money was not connected to any drug activity. Goodwin stated that she intended to use the money to hire an attorney to handle her fiancé’s pending criminal appeal. The forfeiture hearing was then scheduled for October 26, 2011—63 days after Goodwin was served with the complaint.

On appeal, Goodwin claimed that the trial court erred by failing to conduct a hearing within 60 days of service of the forfeiture complaint. The Georgia Court of Appeals agreed with Goodwin and reversed the forfeiture judgment.

OCGA § 16-13-49(o)(5) provides that in a civil asset forfeiture case, “[i]f an answer is filed, a hearing must be held within 60 days after service of the complaint unless continued for good cause and must be held by the court without a jury.” The Georgia Supreme Court has held that the 60-day hearing requirement is mandatory and is necessary to ensure a speedy resolution of contested forfeiture cases in the courts. The Supreme Court has stressed that it is the duty of the State to ensure that the hearing is held within this time period. If the hearing is not held or continued for good cause, the result is a dismissal of the State’s forfeiture complaint.

In this case, there was no dispute that the hearing was not scheduled until 63 days after service of the complaint. The State never sought to continue the case for good cause prior to the expiration of the 60-day time period. Accordingly, the forfeiture judgment was reversed by the Court of Appeals and the seized funds will now be returned to Goodwin.

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