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Attorney challenges seizure of client's moped over minor drug possession charge

One of Richard Jamison Smith’s first questions to his attorney Matthew Cavedon: What can you do about my moped?

Smith bought the $3,000 vehicle earlier this year, which is his main form of transportation.

“I just sold my house and I had gotten the money from the selling of the house. I went out and purchased it for $3,000 in full,” Smith said.

Roughly a month after purchasing the moped, Smith was found with a couple of grams of methamphetamine in his backpack while riding the moped.

“He was riding a moped at the time of his arrest. That is the only connection between the moped and his crime,” Cavedon said.

In early October, the Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office filed a case to seize the property under what is known as civil forfeiture, where property connected to illegal activity may be seized by law enforcement.

Citing the pending nature of the case, Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh declined to comment.

Cavedon, a Hall County assistant public defender, is now representing Smith pro bono on this civil case which he called “fundamentally unfair.”

“I think that we have public safeguards and a political process in place to ensure that the public is a part of what kind of funding (law enforcement agencies) receive, rather than letting officers on the ground and the district attorney’s office make those calls for people,” Cavedon said.

During a hearing Monday, Dec. 10, regarding the potential discovery in the case, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bagwell raised an objection to Cavedon being involved in the case because he is a public defender.

Addressing the issue, Cavedon said he would ensure the case would not be “using any county time or salaried time to do this.”

“I think that it is unfair that he would be left with either trying to defend himself or finding somebody who would be cost-efficient, even over a $3,000 moped while he’s paying the costs of rehab. I don’t think a man like Mr. Smith would otherwise have an attorney,” Cavedon said.

The public defender’s office represented Smith on the underlying drug possession charge, in which Smith was given three years of probation and 50 hours of community service. 

In the discovery for this case, Cavedon said he would seek the evidence the state has against Smith, the decision-making process on forfeiture cases and what is purchased with the proceeds.

He is also requesting a jury trial.

“I think again that when rights like this are on the line, it should be ordinary people from the community that look and are the judges of this,” Cavedon said.

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