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.

1 hour ago

State Rep. Easterbrook: No significant highway improvements from ALDOT in rural SW Alabama since 1983 — Calls for U.S. Hwy 45 widening

If you ever make a trip to Millry, Silas, Coffeeville, Grove Hill, or any of the other small towns that dot the map in rural southwestern Alabama, you’ll discover places that have gone largely unchanged for the past several decades.

While some may think that is a good thing, it is, in part, a product of being isolated from the rest of Alabama. That has come at the cost of a decline in various quality of life factors, including health care and education.

Those areas to the north of Mobile include Choctaw, Washington and Clarke Counties, which are cut off from the rest of the state except for three U.S. Highways, only one of which has seen a significant improvement in the last 50 years. U.S. Highways 43, 45 and 84 serve as the main thoroughfares for that region of the state and have all existed in some form or another since the 1930s.

However, State Rep. Brett Easterbrook (R-Fruitdale) contends if rural economic development is a priority for Alabama’s policymakers, improvements must be made. During an appearance on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Easterbrook made that case and noted the last significant highway improvement for this region came in the 1980s under then-House Speaker Joe McCorquodale (D-Jackson) with the widening of U.S. Highway 43 from Mobile County to Thomasville in northern Clarke County.

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“My district, as you said, covers Choctaw, Clarke and Washington County,” Easterbrook said. “The only real state improvement — the last real state improvement in that district was when Joe McCorquodale was Speaker of the House in 1983. They four-laned Highway 43 — four-laned to Thomasville. It stopped there. So you really only have access headed south.”

Easterbrook explained the struggles of recruiting industry to his House district, which includes all of Washington County, most of Choctaw and Clarke Counties, and a portion of Marengo County, all adjacent to the Alabama-Mississippi state line.

“Industry follows infrastructure,” he added. “They like transportation. It’s a huge part of operating expenses. It’s killing rural Alabama — specifically Southwest Alabama. If you look at the map, there is no four-lane access from the Washington County — from I-65 in Mobile, all the way to I-20.”

According to Easterbrook, U.S. Highway 45 would be an ideal improvement for his district. U.S Highway 45 is four-laned from the Alabama-Mississippi state line north to Meridian, Miss., where it connects to Interstates 20 and 59, and then continues north as a major four-lane north-south thoroughfare in Mississippi.

“Highway 45 is one of those I’m highly interested in,” he said. “It’s the deadliest highway in the state. It’s four-laned from Chicago, Illinois all the way to the Washington County line. In 1992, when they passed the gas bill then, it was written into the law that Highway 45 would be four-laned. The next session, they opened it up and took it out. Highway 45, we had five deaths in December alone. Most of the accidents on Highway 45 were head-on collisions. It is a deadly highway … I think it is because of the highway conditions. If you bottleneck everything down from the four-lane coming all the way in, then the highway is hills and hollows and bad curves everywhere.”

Alabama Department of Transportation highway map, 2019
(ALDOT)

Easterbrook lamented the lack of encouragement he has received from the Ivey administration, noting that he had met with both Alabama Department of Transportation director John Cooper and Gov. Kay Ivey personally, but was informed that despite the public safety elements, those projects did not meet the criteria to be a priority.

“I have met with both,” he explained. “I have not seen the encouragement yet. I met with Mr. Cooper, they talk about a formula they use to choose which road comes first, and obviously, they rank congestion number one. Safety is not a high priority nor rural economic development. If it was, you’d see the money coming out to go to those sites. We don’t see it.”

Choctaw County is one of 12 counties in Alabama without four-lane highway access to the Interstate highway system. Clarke and the far eastern portion of Washington are served by U.S. Highway 43. Easterbrook noted that beyond U.S. Highway 43, West Alabama was grossly underserved.

“Just get a state map and look at it — there is not any four-lane access all the way from I-65 to I-20 in Tuscaloosa,” Easterbrook said. “It’s hard for me to imagine how one-fourth of the state does not have four-lane access. To me, it has to come down to votes. In that area, the population is not that high. So, it gets overlooked. And if we are really serious about rural economic development, then we have to have the four-lane access.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 hours ago

Jalen Hurts missed grandfather’s funeral for Senior Bowl practice — ‘Incredibly difficult’

Publicly this past week, it appeared that former University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was enjoying his return to the state as he prepared for Saturday’s Senior Bowl game.

However, under the surface, Hurts has also been hurting.

According to a report by NFL.com, Hurts’ maternal grandfather passed away on January 13. His funeral was Wednesday during a daily Senior Bowl Week practice.

Since Hurts had committed to play in the Senior Bowl before the funeral was scheduled and the week’s practices are integral to NFL scouts evaluating Hurts ahead of April’s NFL Draft, he missed the funeral to stay in Mobile this week.

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“He’s a team player,” Hurts’ mother told NFL.com on Friday. “Even though that was family, he’s worked all his life to get here and this is a critical time. He’s very, very family-oriented.”

Nicole Lynn, Hurts’ agent, reportedly described the two as very close.

“Jalen had an incredibly difficult decision to make after finding out his grandpa’s funeral would be during the Wednesday practice of the Senior Bowl,” Lynn said in a statement to NFL.com. “With a heavy heart, Jalen ultimately felt his grandpa would want him to keep his commitment and play in the game — so Jalen decided to play. I would be lying if I said this week has not been extremely difficult for Jalen considering the circumstance, but I admire his strength through it all.”

Incredibly, playing through the pain, Hurts shown bright during the Senior Bowl Week practices.

Teammates voted Hurts as the South Team Offensive Practice Player of the Week among the quarterbacks over the likes of Oregon’s Justin Herbert.

Hurts’ mother, citing his maturity and compassion, said “it’s hard for me to put into words” how proud she is of the former Tide star. Her comments came after the Senior Bowl Experience’s Meet the Players event, in which Hurts drew a huge crowd of fans trying to get his autograph and visit with the player.

“I’m in awe of the lives that he impacts, but just his character alone,” Hurts’ mother added. “It almost doesn’t feel real to me. Even today, all these people in line to see him with their Alabama gear on.”

In Saturday’s Senior Bowl game, Hurts went 6/13 passing for 58 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception.

The 2020 NFL Draft will be held April 23-25 in Las Vegas, NV.

RELATED: Hurts on Saban: ‘He’s been nothing but supportive’ — ‘It was great to see him’

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

3 hours ago

Auburn basketball to host ESPN’s College GameDay for first time

The basketball version of ESPN’s College GameDay is coming to Auburn for the first time ever on Saturday, February 1.

The national show is set to broadcast prior to Auburn’s upcoming top-20 matchup with Kentucky.

Host Rece Davis (an alumnus of the University of Alabama) and analysts Jay Bilas, LaPhonso Ellis and Seth Greenberg will be live from Auburn Arena, beginning at 10:00 a.m. CT on ESPN.

According to the university, this marks the first time Auburn has been featured on the show as a host or visiting team. Head coach Bruce Pearl has made four previous appearances on the show when he was coaching at Tennessee.

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The Tigers have split the last six meetings with the Wildcats, including winning two of the last three inside Auburn Arena.

Additionally, Countdown to GameDay Live will serve as the pregame show to the pregame show. Each week, ESPN’s Rece Davis, Jason Fitz and Christine Williamson will join a wide array of ESPN college basketball analysts and reporters. The show will premiere this Saturday across Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and the ESPN App.

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

5 hours ago

Interview Day brings Alabama high schoolers together with employers

More than 250 high school seniors met with representatives from almost 30 companies at the Bessemer Civic Center for an Interview Day event designed to link those entering the workforce with those looking to hire.

The students were from 14 high schools across a six-county area (Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker).

Interview Day was the culmination of preparations the students made during the first semester of their senior year of school. From developing soft skills to working on resumes, the students came into the event prepared to put their best foot forward.

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Interview Day pairs Alabama high school seniors with companies from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The event was presented by Central Six AlabamaWorks and the Onin Group in cooperation with the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce58 Inc. and Central Alabama Partnership for Training and Employment.

Companies were from a wide range of industries, including automotive, distribution, construction and skills trades, health care and hospitality.

“The reason why this program is so successful is that we’re addressing a gap,” said Tiffany Bishop, regional workforce development manager with Onin Group. “We have students who are going into unemployment and then we have employers that are looking for good talent, and all we’re doing is trying to bridge the gap to help them find each other.”

The effort comes as Alabama announces it ended 2019 with record low unemployment of 2.7% in December.

“I’m so proud to be able to close out this decade with record-breaking economic measures,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “All year long, we’ve had good news to share, and to be able to end the year, and the decade, on such a positive note is wonderful. Earlier this year, Alabama had never reported an unemployment rate lower than 3%, and now we’ve had one for the last three months! Nearly 84,000 more people have jobs now than last year. I’m excited about the path that Alabama is on, and the positive impacts this news has on our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

7 hours ago

Rep. Mike Rogers: Donald Trump is the ‘most pro-life president ever’

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL) strongly commended President Donald Trump and the thousands of pro-life Americans who gathered in Washington, D.C., on Friday for the March for Life event.

“This week marked the 47th anniversary of the disastrous Roe v. Wade decision that cast a dark pall over the soul of our nation,” Rogers said in a statement. “Every person who has gathered in Washington for the march today is joined in spirit with millions of Americans across our land who staunchly believe in the sanctity of life.”

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Rogers then went on to discuss President Trump and his strong support for a pro-life agenda:

I am especially proud President Trump will address the march and be the first sitting president to do so. President Trump is the most pro-life president ever to sit in the White House.  Last year, 58 pro-life laws were passed across the nation. It just shows how important and precious the lives of these unborn babies are to so many. Momentum is on our side. We must keep fighting

“As a Christian and the father of three beautiful children, I will always stand up for the rights of these precious lives and be a voice for them,” Rogers concluded.

The 47th annual March for Life was attended by thousands who celebrate the sanctity of life from conception to death and advocate for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion and has resulted in an estimated 60 million deaths of unborn children.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter 
@RealKyleMorris.