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Alabama Senate passes civil asset forfeiture reform bill, which now heads to the House

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture law.

Sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), the compromise version of SB 210 passed by the upper chamber was supported by the Alabama District Attorneys Association and law enforcement.

The purpose of the bill is ultimately threefold: deter criminal drug activity by reducing its economic incentives; confiscate property used in violation of law and disgorge the fruits of illegal conduct relating to drug offenses; and protect the due process rights of property owners.

“This important legislation allows our law enforcement to continue to deter criminal activity and confiscate property obtained through illegal actions, while at the same time ensuring that the due process and rights of the property owner in question are protected,” stated Orr.

SB 210 now heads to the House for consideration.

“I appreciate the Alabama District Attorneys Association for working with the legislature to reach an agreement on this critical bill for law enforcement and for the citizens of our state,” Orr added. “I look forward to the House now taking up this bill so we can give Alabamians the assurance that their right to due process is protected.”

The bill would:

  • Exempt U.S. currency totaling $250 or less and motor vehicles worth less than $5,000 from seizure and forfeiture. This protects the innocent owner from having to hire an attorney to recover assets of minimal value.
  • Provide due process protections for owners of property seized without a warrant by requiring the prosecuting authority to obtain a post-seizure seizure order from the court within a certain timeframe.
  • Require a finding of probable cause by the court before a forfeiture action may be instituted.
  • Specifically prohibit a law enforcement officer from inducing or requiring a person to waive, for purposes of a seizure or forfeiture action, the person’s interest in property. This would prevent illegal roadside waivers.
  • Prohibit courts from authorizing the forfeiture of property that is disproportionate to the underlying criminal offense and would create a list of factors a court must use to determine whether the forfeiture is proportionate.
  • Revise the procedure for an innocent owner whose assets were seized without their knowledge of the crime to enable them to have their property returned to them by deleting certain requirements that they had to prove to meet the burden.
  • Prohibit a state or local law enforcement agency from seizing property under state law, and then transferring it to the federal government for forfeiture proceedings, unless the property exceeds $10,000.

Tuesday was the 24th day of the legislature’s 2021 regular session.

Barry Matson, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, released a statement in support of Orr’s bill.

“Asset Forfeiture is a critical tool in the fight against crime and criminal enterprises. When the state uses its authority to take someone’s liberty or property, it must be done with transparency and a fair due process. This bill should give confidence to the people of Alabama that it’s legislature, district attorneys and law enforcement expect nothing less,” Matson remarked. “I must give my appreciation to Senator Orr, Senator Greg Reed and Senate Leadership for working with Alabama’s district attorneys and law enforcement to make this important legislation possible.”

Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner also came forward to voice his support.

“The illegal drug trade affects every community in this country and is directly related to most other criminal activity, especially violent crime,” Turner commented. “Asset forfeitures gives law enforcement another tool to help disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking in our community. If we can take away drug profits, vehicles or properties that are used to help further the drug trade in our County, it in turn has an impact by disrupting the supply of drugs that are available on the streets, Also, the money gained from forfeitures can be used to buy public safety equipment that helps law enforcement protect and serve our law-abiding citizens throughout the community.”

“I am appreciative to the District Attorney’s Association and our elected legislators for working on this issue and ensuring that law enforcement has every tool available to protect our communities,” he continued.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn