1 year ago

Civil asset forfeiture: ‘We all probably deserve some blame’ for the disgraceful practice


 
 
Civil asset forfeiture involves the government taking assets allegedly used in or the proceeds of criminal activity. The practice has long angered libertarians and produced many injustices. A reform bill has been introduced in the state legislature this session.

First a little history. Civil asset forfeiture in the U.S. dates to the early 1800s, when our nation battled the Barbary pirates and privateers. Privateers were privately funded, equipped, and staffed ships commissioned by nations to raid enemy commercial shipping during conflict. Investors funded privateers in exchange for the captured bounty.

Property belonging to a pirate might be captured without the owner (technically the foreign nation for privateers) being apprehended. The government brought a civil case to seize the property, which the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in an 1827 decision. This decision is notable because John Marshall was then Chief Justice. Justice Marshall took the Constitution’s strict limits on government seriously, having innovated judicial review to strike down unconstitutional government actions. The Marshall Court’s ruling suggests that forfeiture is consistent with even limited government.

The Federal and state governments revived and expanded civil forfeiture in the 1980s to prosecute the War on Drugs. Modern forfeiture has two notable features. First, the burden of proof is lower than the familiar guilt beyond a reasonable doubt criminal standard, and civil forfeiture does not require a conviction or even the filing of criminal charges. Second, laws passed in the 1980s allowed the Department of Justice and police departments to keep seized assets.

Not surprisingly, law enforcement dramatically expanded its use of civil forfeiture. And troubling stories of abuse soon began to emerge. In one notorious instance, police in Tenaha, Texas, stopped out-of-town motorists, and if they were carrying cash, threatened them with money laundering charges if they did not agree to forfeiture. At least 140 people were shaken down over a two-year span. Criminal charges were never filed against the motorists, who were disproportionately African-American.

A new report from the Alabama Appleseed and Southern Poverty Law Centers, “Forfeiting Your Rights,” offers details on civil forfeiture in Alabama. The researchers meticulously scoured court records from 2015, as reporting of civil asset forfeiture is not required. In 25 percent of cases, the accused faced no criminal charges. Half of the seizures involved less than $1,400, hardly the riches of drug kingpins. The state “won” half of the cases because the accused made no attempt to defend his or her property. Even if the accused could afford a lawyer, legal fees could easily exceed the amount at stake.

One might want to blame all this on greedy police departments and prosecutors. News stories hint at a different dynamic. A first seizure might have allowed the purchase of some valuable equipment which local government could not afford. Then seizures might have protected the police budget when local tax revenues fell. Pretty soon, local government would begin counting on the revenue, creating pressure for continued seizures, especially small seizures likely to go unchallenged.

We all probably deserve some blame. We do not like to pay taxes, yet still want the police to have the resources they need. Asset forfeiture allows this; all we have to do is tell ourselves that only criminals face forfeiture and ignore evidence to the contrary. The “Forfeiting Your Rights” report demonstrates the cost of funding police through asset seizures in Alabama.

We could alternatively rely on criminal forfeiture, which requires a criminal conviction. As the Marshall Court recognized in 1827, civil forfeiture is appropriate only when the accused cannot be prosecuted. That is not true in the vast majority of cases today. Proving criminals’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a trial before a jury of one’s peers has proved crucial in making government serve the governed, not the rulers. We discard this wisdom at our own peril.

Nobody likes paying taxes. Proponents of limited government, however, should be willing to fund the tasks we ask of government. We should adequately fund law enforcement through taxes and end the disgrace of civil asset forfeiture.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

11 mins ago

Alabama House passes legislation to combat human trafficking

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously passed two bills aimed at combatting human trafficking: HB 262 and HB 264.

The bills are co-sponsored by State Rep. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) and State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur). Coleman the assistant minority leader, on the House floor stressed that combatting human trafficking is a nonpartisan issue. She praised Collins and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) for their efforts on the issue.

“Human trafficking is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation. There are more slaves today, an estimated 27 million, than at any point in our nation’s history,” Coleman explained in a statement. “This startling fact shows why the Alabama Legislature must act to combat human trafficking and educate the public about the harsh realities of this growing business.”

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Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal activity in the world, estimated at $150 billion annually. This “modern-day slavery,” as END IT Alabama monikers human trafficking, is happening here in the Yellowhammer State. This is evidenced by the recent trafficking busts at multiple massage parlors in Madison and Morgan Counties by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

“I used to purchase gift certificates for my own mother to get foot massages at the very same spas that were shut down,” Collins advised. “HB264 would have required those same owners to display a human trafficking poster with hotline information, which could have led to a quicker rescue. I think the impact of human trafficking is larger than we realize.”

HB 262 clarifies existing law to prohibit publishing photos of those charged with the act of prostitution while allowing for publishing photos of those charged with soliciting or procuring prostitution. This bill is aimed at deterring “John’s” from purchasing sex and supporting human trafficking while protecting potential victims of human trafficking from public identification.

HB 264 clarifies existing state regulations related to the posting of the Human Trafficking Hotline and awareness posters in public places and entertainment establishments by assigning a regulator and increasing fees for non-compliance.

The two bills now head to the Senate, where they face a time crunch to pass before the regular session ends next week.

HB 261, which would require all new commercial driver licensees to undergo industry-specific human trafficking training, was also slated to be passed by the House Wednesday night before the chamber abruptly adjourned over State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) intentionally killing non-controversial legislation on a consent calendar. HB 261 has the backing of the Alabama Trucking Association and Truckers Against Trafficking.

Coleman and Collins will also introduce a pair of resolutions aimed at combatting human trafficking. The first resolution encourages ALEA to continue developing curriculum to ensure that every officer in the state is trained regarding human trafficking.

The second resolution creates the Alabama Healthcare Human Trafficking Training Program Commission, which is tasked with developing a training module for all healthcare related employees to readily identify and provide trauma-centered care for human trafficking victims.

You can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24/7 at 1 (888) 373-7888.

You can also text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

47 mins ago

Key rural broadband initiative receives final passage from Alabama Legislature

With the support of a broad coalition of legislators and stakeholders behind it, a key rural broadband initiative received final passage in the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday.

The bill, carried by State Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) and State Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) in their respective chambers, will allow electricity providers to run broadband using their existing easements.

This is expected to encourage electric providers to invest in broadband deployment and accelerate the cost-effective expansion of broadband access in rural Alabama, in many cases using existing infrastructure.

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This was one of two bills legislative leadership prioritized to grow the state’s broadband infrastructure. The other, a bill sponsored by State Sen. Clay Scofield, would increase the amount of resources devoted to building out broadband in unserved, rural areas. Scofield’s bill awaits final approval from the House of Representatives.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh previously noted the importance of both pieces of legislation.

“These are the two bills that will help us… provide for our citizens, who I believe consider the broadband infrastructure a ‘number one issue’ for the state of Alabama,” he said. “It will have great impact on all of our education… as well as economic development.”

The intent of the ongoing effort is to spur economic development and enhance quality of life for rural areas through greater access to high-speed broadband.

HB 400 now goes to the governor for her signature.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

10 hours ago

Limestone County portion of Huntsville lands 650 new jobs with $220 million YKTA facility

HUNTSVILLE — Wednesday during a ceremony just a stone’s throw from the location of the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing auto assembly plant under construction, Gov. Kay Ivey formally announced the arrival of auto supplier Y-tec Keylex Toyotetsu Alabama (YKTA) to the state.

The $220 million facility located in the Huntsville-annexed portions of eastern Limestone County will provide 650 new jobs.

YKTA is a new joint venture formed between a trio of Mazda and Toyota suppliers and will produce structural body stampings and assemblies, as well as functional and chassis parts for Mazda Toyota.

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“This is a great wonderful announcement today,” Ivey said to reporters following the event. “Over $220 million investment in a manufacturing facility in Huntsville and Limestone County. This investment is going to bring 650 new jobs for more people to go to work. This is a great day in Alabama.”

Ivey was asked to speculate on potential future parts supplier announcements and if more could be forthcoming.

“I sure hope so because Mazda Toyota is a big facility,” she replied. “They may need some more suppliers. We hope they’ll come. We’re looking forward to having them.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Gov. Kay Ivey at YKTA announcement, 5/22/2019 (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he expected to see a boost in the economy as the manufacturing was underway at the Mazda Toyota facility.

“As they come and start producing automobiles, we’ll see more and more come off of this — more and more jobs, more and more for the economy coming off of this. It’s a great day for us.”

He predicted there would be more announcements, but they wouldn’t solely be in Huntsville. They would be scattered throughout the northern part of Alabama.

“The future holds more of these announcements,” Battle explained. “They all won’t be right here. There will be announcements all across North Alabama — down to Jasper, to the tri-cities, over to the Sand Mountain area because every labor pool will be challenged out of this. And that’s the great thing — that we’ll provide jobs for people all across North Alabama, even into South Tennessee.”

During an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN following today’s announcement, Limestone County District 3 County Commissioner Jason Black discussed the announcement of the new venture and noted that the area was “flooded” with similar announcements.

“Just like all the other announcements we’ve had — it’s just fantastic that we’re able to have them,” Black said. “There are places throughout the United States that are looking for businesses to come in and we’re just flooded with them at this time. The Mazda Toyota Manufacturing deal was larger than some people can even imagine.”

@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.

12 hours ago

Last known American slave ship discovered in Alabama waters

The Associated Press on Wednesday reported that the last known ship to bring enslaved persons to the United States has been identified in Alabama waters.

The ship is known as the “Clotilda.” The wreckage was found last year in the Mobile River channel near Africatown and a thorough identification process ended Wednesday.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), who represents that part of coastal Alabama, released a statement, declaring, “This is a significant day for the people of Africatown but also for Alabama and our nation.”

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He explained, “Many current Africatown residents are descendants of enslaved Africans forcibly brought to the United States aboard the Clotilda, including those later freed following the Civil War.”

“We should seize upon this opportunity to help us better understand our complex American history,” Byrne said. “Harry Truman wisely said ‘the only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.’ Let’s use the discovery of the Clotilda to learn more about our history so we can discuss how best we can move forward together.”

The site of the Clotilda wreckage had been sought by historians and scientists for many years.

The last survivor of the ship lived until 1937. Read her story here.

RELATED: Cleon Jones is an Alabama Bright Light going to bat for Africatown

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Alabama House committee approves Marsh’s historic education proposal

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives’ Education Policy Committee on Wednesday gave a favorable report as amended to SB 397, a constitutional amendment sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) that would be a historic overhaul of the state school board.

The proposal was first reported on by Yellowhammer News two weeks ago. SB 397 passed the Senate unanimously on Thursday.

Alabama’s public education system was ranked number 50 in the United States in a report published last week.

“Our current system is broken,” Marsh has said. “We need systemic changes to our education system and it starts at the top.”

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Marsh was welcoming a new grandchild into the world on Wednesday so he could not attend the committee meeting in person. State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, is carrying the bill in the House and handled the legislation during the committee meeting.

Poole spoke in adamant support of the legislation, as did State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), the Education Policy Committee chair.

SB 397 would replace the current elected State Board of Education with the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education, members of which will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate.

The legislation would also abolish the state superintendent position and replace it with a secretary of elementary and secondary education, appointed by the commission and subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Marsh advised, “Currently, one of the reasons that education is consistently the most pressing issue for most Alabamians is because our state school board is completely dysfunctional. We have had five State Superintendents in three years. Our teachers and students are the ones who suffer from this the most.”

Additionally, SB 397 would mandate that the newly formed commission replace Common Core in Alabama.

This comes in the wake of Marsh introducing a bill this session to replace Common Core in the state of Alabama. That bill stalled in the House Education Policy Committee after passing the Senate. Marsh also cited the state’s poor educational outcomes and ranking in bringing that Common Core repeal.

SB 398, a bill which ensures the legislative minority caucus would have input in the governor’s appointments to the new commission, was also approved Wednesday by the House committee. Marsh said this is an integral part of his overall proposal, along with the constitutional amendment.

SB 397 and SB 398 are now in the hands of the full House. As it was amended by the committee, SB 397 (if passed by the House) will need to go back to the Senate for concurrence or nonconcurrence.

Governor Kay Ivey has come out in adamant support of the proposal.

As a constitutional amendment, SB 397 (if passed by the Alabama legislature) would need to be approved by the people of the state in a referendum. This would occur on the March 2020 primary election date.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn