2 years ago

Civil Asset Forfeiture: An Alabama sheriff and county district attorney’s view

(Pixabay)

 
 
(Opinion) The Alabama Legislature is considering legislation that would change the way civil asset forfeitures are handled in Alabama. While well-meaning, some of the proposed changes would essentially gut what is an effective crime-fighting tool while making it easier for drug dealers and other criminals to hang on to their ill-gotten gains. The result would be more crime.

Unfortunately, several special interest groups have pushed a narrative that law enforcement –police, sheriffs and other authorities – are using civil asset forfeiture to unfairly take money and property from innocent Alabamians.

That narrative is false. Law enforcement uses civil asset forfeiture only to go after criminals, and state law already guarantees a process that is clear and fair for any person to challenge forfeiture in court. State law also provides built-in safeguards that protect the property of those who have committed no crime.

What is civil asset forfeiture and why is it necessary?

First and foremost, civil asset forfeiture is a crime-fighting tool. It is used to both deprive criminals of the ill-gotten gains of crimes like drug-dealing and attack the means by which these crimes are committed.

Consider, for example, money seized in a drug raid. Drug dealers trade in cash. Not only do dealers sell their drugs for cash, they also use this cash to buy drugs from their suppliers. Taking just a few thousand dollars in drug money off the street means there is less money to buy drugs and, thus, less drugs being sold.

But it is also important to prevent criminals from enjoying the fruits of their crime. We know drug money as well as cash derived from the sale of stolen goods are used to buy vehicles, guns, houses, jewelry and other items. It makes no sense to allow those who traffic in crime to keep the proceeds of their crimes. That would reward criminality.

It is critical that civil asset forfeiture remains a staple in the crime-fighting toolbox.

Here are some important facts to keep in mind.

Law enforcement and prosecutors can’t go after property unless it can be shown it was used in a crime, was gained through criminal action or bought with the proceeds of a crime. Alabama law lays out a clear process that prosecutors must follow in going after a criminal’s assets and an easy process for people to challenge the forfeiture.

More important, no asset can be forfeited in state court without the approval of a judge who weighs evidence both for and against forfeiture. Even in cases in which the property owner doesn’t contest the forfeiture, a judge must still sign off on it. These proceedings begin with public document filings in circuit court and are disposed of in an open and public forum, with all proceeds subject to audit.

In fact, the procedures used in civil forfeitures are the same as those used in every civil lawsuit filed in Alabama. If there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we handle civil forfeitures, then there is also something fundamentally wrong with the way all lawsuits are handled.

Two changes to the state’s civil forfeiture law are especially concerning to DAs and law enforcement. One would allow forfeiture only if there is a criminal conviction; the other would require that any proceeds from forfeitures go to the state’s General Fund rather than local law enforcement. Though these changes may sound good, they would hurt public safety and make civil forfeiture less fair.

Requiring criminal convictions would result in more criminal charges filed and more people going to prison for lesser crimes. Consider pretrial diversion programs, such as drug court, for example. These programs allow people arrested for nonviolent crimes, including some drug charges, to go into treatment and other programs that keep them out of prison. Participants in these programs are not convicted of a crime, so under the proposed change, the only way to deprive them of their ill-gotten gains would be to prosecute them.

Meanwhile, sending the proceeds of forfeiture to the state’s General Fund would result in fewer busts of drug and stolen property rings. What incentive would local police and sheriffs have to invest manpower, resources and time in these operations if they don’t receive proceeds to cover their costs?

Prosecutors and law enforcement take issue with other parts of the proposed legislation. Alabama passed meaningful asset forfeiture reform in 2014 that strengthened safeguards and built on existing due process protections for criminal defendants, innocent owners and bona fide lienholders. We are always willing to work with lawmakers to strengthen Alabama’s laws to fight crime and protect our citizens.

Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh is president of the Alabama District Attorneys Association. Coffee County Sheriff Dave Sutton is president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association.

20 mins ago

Jalen Hurts gets one more shot at LSU — 3 playoff takeaways

The matchups for the college football playoff are set, and Jalen Hurts is back in Atlanta to face No. 1 LSU.

Hurts’ No. 4 Sooners are set to take on the Bayou Tigers in the Peach Bowl on December 28 in the first round of the playoffs. No. 2 Ohio State takes on No. 3 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

Here are three takeaways from the seedings:

1. There will be points scored in Atlanta. LSU has the No. 1 ranked offense in the country. The No. 2 ranked offense? Oklahoma. LSU and Oklahoma have the No. 32 and No. 24 ranked defenses, respectively. Hurts is an explosive quarterback with playoff experience in a system which has a history of putting up big numbers in big games. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is the likely Heisman Trophy winner. Expect this game to be a classic Big 12-style game flying up and down the field.

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2. The balance in Ohio State’s offense will expose Clemson’s losses on defense for the first time this season. With one of the worst schedules for a playoff team in recent memory, no one really knows how good Clemson is. The soft schedule has allowed Clemson’s defense to mask some of its losses on defense. On the defensive line alone, five players are now in the NFL who were with Dabo Swinney’s Tigers last season. That defense has not come close to getting stressed like it will in Arizona by Ohio State.

3. Prediction: LSU and Ohio State face off for the championship. LSU has gotten healthy in the secondary at just the right time. Three more weeks in between games should help and will be key against a dynamic Oklahoma offense. Ohio State has been the consensus most complete team in the country and one has to wonder how Clemson will handle seeing a good team for the first time all year. Throughout the entire year, LSU and Ohio State have looked like the best two teams in the country. Why would that change now?

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

40 mins ago

Gaston APSO brightens Childersburg shop window with holiday cheer

The Grinch can’t steal Christmas in downtown Childersburg.

To help catch shoppers’ interest, members of the Gaston Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) spruced up an empty shop window with trees, lighting and bright pops of holiday color. Indeed, the Gaston Grinch transformed a forlorn window into a joyful holiday scene.

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Karen White, a Plant E.C. Gaston scheduler, said the decorating project helped propel members into the Christmas spirit. Trish Wesson, the wife of Childersburg Mayor Ken Wesson, spurred the plan to decorate empty shops in the downtown area. With these efforts, merchants and many townspeople in Childersburg – the nation’s oldest continually occupied city, dating to 1540 – hope to attract more shoppers this holiday season.

Gaston APSO members were among 12 teams that spent several hours decorating. Another building resembles Santa’s workshop.

White, Barbara McGinnis, Kamber Nwransky and Sarah Hansen created the Grinch theme with paint, Christmas trees and ornaments. Gaston Maintenance Team Leaders Jason Bailey and Jason Blackerby safely strung and wired lights to illuminate the scene from dawn to dusk. Gaston APSO volunteers gave 18 hours to the mini-revitalization project.

“There are lots of empty storefronts, and these decorations helped revitalize our little town,” White said. “We pulled what we had in our closets and sheds. Our window looks great.”

White thinks that it would be helpful to keep displays in the town’s empty shops year-round.

“It brought joy to people in Childersburg, and we had so much fun doing it,” White said. “It makes you feel good when you go through town and see all of the windows brightened up.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

Stars, including Alabama luminaries, come out for ‘Rockers on Broadway’

As Dolly Fox watched “Rockers on Broadway,” a New York fundraiser she produced, unfold a couple of weeks ago, she realized it was a full-circle moment for her.

Her mother, Yolande Betbeze Fox, had won the talent preliminary and the title crown at both the Miss Alabama and Miss America pageants, and Dolly Fox herself had gotten some early performing experience in musicals at Town and Gown’s Summerfest in Birmingham. Now, former Miss Alabama Callie Walker was on stage at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, singing a duet with her sister, Scarlett, who appeared in Broadway’s “Carousel.”

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“This is all about mentoring kids in the arts,” Dolly says about “Rockers on Broadway.” “Mom would have never gotten where she ended up without training with the most wonderful mentors and teachers along the way. Now that I’m an only child, I feel like it’s important to use some of my mother’s money to give back to other young, talented women.”

At the top of that list is establishing a new Miss Alabama scholarship in memory of her mother, who died in 2016, and “Rockers on Broadway.”

In its 26th year, “Rockers on Broadway” was founded by Donnie Kehr, who starred on Broadway in “The Who’s Tommy.” The idea came from the show’s director, Des McAnuff, and Pete Townshend of The Who. The idea was to give the rock opera’s performers – mostly Broadway performers — experience performing in rock clubs.

That has continued year after year, presented by the PATH Fund (Performing Artists That Help) and benefiting several charities.

This year’s event honored Tony Award-winner LaChanze and Grammy-winning producer Russ Titelman and featured performances from Broadway luminaries and up-and-coming artists such as the Walker sisters.

“This event went so well,” says Fox, who has been a member of the PATH board for four years. “Callie and Scarlett were amazing. They were so rehearsed and professional. They really knew their stuff.”

Callie and Scarlett Walker sang “Enough is Enough” (a hit for Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer).  Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, was among the performers, and her mother was in the audience.

“It was such an awesome evening,” Scarlett Walker says. “Having the opportunity to perform alongside the most amazing vocalists and musicians in the business was so magical.”

Her sister agreed.

“It honestly was one of the most exhilarating and fun performances I have ever been a part of,” Callie Walker says.

Dolly, whose father was Matthew Fox, president of Universal Pictures, had a famous champion herself in Andy Warhol, the pop artist who was a friend and a boss when she was an editor for his Interview magazine.

“Andy was such a mentor to me,” she says. “He came to everything I did, no matter how bad it was. I had such great mentors, and the parallel to Andy is actually quite relevant. He did that for me, and I’m trying to use any clout I have to do that for others.”

And her mother would be with her every step of the way, says Fox.

“We’re finding talent and mentoring it and giving it a leg up,” she says. “She would absolutely love this.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Roby: Celebrating 200 years of Alabama

For many, December 14 will be just another day to cross off the calendar; it’s another day closer to the holidays and the new year. For Alabamians, it marks one of the greatest celebrations to date in the history of our state. On December 14, 1819, Alabama was incorporated into the Union as the nation’s 22nd state. From North Alabama all the way down to the Wiregrass, Alabamians join together to commemorate the 200th anniversary of statehood to honor the beloved place we call home.

There are many incredible stories to be told about the historical impact made by our fellow Alabamians. The state has deep roots in our nation’s history.

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Many Alabama natives, some temporary and some permanent, were involved in critical turning points in American history. Alabama emerged as the center of the American Civil Rights Movement half a century ago and was home to pivotal events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Ms. Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist and Montgomery native, is widely known as the “first lady of civil rights.” Montgomery leaders recently unveiled a statue in downtown Montgomery recognizing Rosa Parks for her bravery and to serve as a reminder for future generations to continue down a path of righteousness. Ms. Parks’ actions changed the course of history, and her legacy will be remembered forever. Atlanta native Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., served as a pastor at Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and led the fight for equal rights. Parks and Dr. King represent faces of courage, strength, and equality for all. History changed right on our very own Alabama soil.

Not only is our state widely known for central moments in history, but we are also globally recognized for our presence in industries that are vital components to the success of our country. The agriculture industry is the state’s largest industry and is the largest employer in the Second Congressional District. Our state is home to thousands of acres of fertile farmland. Approximately half of the peanuts grown in the United States are cultivated within a 100-mile radius of the city of Dothan, also known as the “Peanut Capital of the World.”

Additionally, Alabama plays an integral role in the aerospace and defense industries with these two industries contributing to over 60,000 jobs in the state. North Alabama is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Redstone Arsenal, and the Anniston Army Depot, while Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base and Fort Rucker are located across the southern region of the state.

These are just a few examples of the incredible, rich history that our state has to offer, and I wish I could include them all. One initiative that does honor each of these milestones is ALABAMA 200 which was designed to celebrate the people, places, and history of the state over a three-year time span. Beginning in 2017 and culminating with the state’s 200th birthday in 2019, ALABAMA 200 curated events and activities across all 67 counties to engage with Alabamians far and wide. Teachers, students, organizations and local leaders are among those included in these exciting events bringing local community residents and even visitors together. On Saturday, December 14, the state will participate in a finale commemoration in the Capital City. It will be the largest birthday celebration the people of Alabama have seen, and it is a unique and special opportunity to gather and honor the history and people that make the state of Alabama great. I am extremely excited to join the people of Alabama to celebrate our state’s history.

If you are able, I highly encourage you and your family to attend the events of the ALABAMA 200 finale celebration. There is no better way to pay tribute to the state we each hold so close to our hearts than by gathering in the Capital City to praise our great state.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

7 hours ago

Alabama Power Foundation marks 30 years of giving

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Alabama Power Foundation didn’t exist, especially for the dozens of organizations throughout the state that have advanced with its support.

For three decades, the foundation has looked for ways to elevate Alabama and boost communities through charitable giving, giving back more than $230 million to the communities that Alabama Power serves.

“Since our founding 30 years ago, we have prided ourselves in being a catalyst for change and for service to the state of Alabama,” said Myla Calhoun, Alabama Power Foundation president and vice president of Charitable Giving at Alabama Power.

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Alabama Power Foundation marks 30 years of giving from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Organizations that focus on education, the environment, health and human service, civic and community, arts and culture and other areas have benefited.

“We really enable our partner agencies to do what they do best,” Calhoun said. “So, when we talk about our success, really it’s their success that we’re proud of.”

Success like that the Literacy Council of Central Alabama has enjoyed.

“Ever since (our founding), Alabama Power Foundation has been a really strong supporter,” said Katrina Watson, president and executive director of the Literacy Council of Central Alabama. “We couldn’t be where we are without the Alabama Power Foundation’s long-standing support.”

Mark Dixon, president of A+ Education Partnership, said the Alabama Power Foundation doesn’t just give money but takes an active role in ensuring programs are successful.

“Alabama Power Foundation and Alabama Power Company have been a big supporter of ours since day one and over the years provided a lot of funding that really allows us to grow our mission, which is to create great schools for every child,” Dixon said. “We do two programs in schools – the Alabama Best Practices Center and A+ College Ready – and part of that is expanding great training for teachers and advanced placement programs for students. Alabama Power helped us fund those as a partner from the very beginning.”

Calhoun said the foundation’s mission fits in with the history of Alabama Power, with the ultimate goal of elevating the state.

“We believe and it is our hope that what we do creates a platform that makes economic development and community development and, really, the health and vitality of the state a bit easier,” she said. “And that’s what gets us going every day and that’s what makes us think strategically about the work that we do. And that’s what helps us to empower the agencies who day in and day out are doing the hard work in the communities where we serve.”

Grant recipients talk about the importance of Alabama Power Foundation from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)