RESPONDING TO A CIVIL FORFEITURE COMPLAINT: THE BARE ESSENTIALS
Responding to a civil forfeiture complaint is a very technical matter, and if your complaint does not meet the requirements of Georgia, your answer or response will almost certainly be stricken. If your answer is stricken or dismissed, your property that was seized is gone permanently. Many people unfortunately believe that they can retrieve their property if they ultimately win the criminal case. That is an unfortunate misunderstanding. If your property is forfeited, it is forever gone. Without question, you should have a lawyer experienced in defending forfeitures prepare your answer. If you have questions regarding a Georgia forfeiture action, contact The Sessions Law Firm today. Below are a few basic rules that must be followed when responding to a civil forfeiture action initiated under O.C.G.A. 16-13-49:
1. An answer must be filed within 30 days from the date of service of the Complaint. Do not miss this deadline.
2. Answers must be verified under penalty of perjury. You have to swear to the truthfulness of the answers.
3. You have to provide a factual basis for how you acquired the property. The passage below provides guidance as to the level of specificity that is required for pleading an interest in the property seized:
For other items, however, the claimant's ownership interest is described with the name of the transferor and a year of purchase by the claimant.10 Although exact dates are not given, we have stated that “if a date certain cannot be given, the time frame ” of the acquisition of the ownership interest will suffice.11 Further, the list states the type of transfer (purchase) made to each claimant and identifies the prior owner. This information assures some degree of legitimacy to the Appellants' prima facie claim of ownership, and the answer otherwise contains factual information necessary to expedite the proceeding.
While we are mindful of the State's argument that the pleading requirements in a forfeiture action are strict, they are not meant to be impossible. The legislative intent in enacting the forfeiture statute is not only to provide for the prompt disposition of seized property but also to protect the interests of innocent property owners. The pleading requirement must be construed to implement that intent.12
Therefore, under the circumstances of this case, we conclude that this information was sufficient to plead an interest in the property under OCGA § 16–13–49(o )(3)(D),13 and the trial court erred by striking the Appellants' answer as to these items.14
Arreola-Soto v. State, 314 Ga. App. 165, 167-68, 723 S.E.2d 482, 484-85 (2012), cert. denied (June 18, 2012)
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