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High-level incumbents likely won’t help civil asset forfeiture reform

Stories like Frank Ranelli’s – a Birmingham-area businessman whose more than 130 computers were seized by Homewood police in 2010 on suspicion that some were stolen – were what drove Alabama’s legislators and interest groups to attempt reform of the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws during this year’s legislative session.

Significant reform gained early momentum when a bill that would require a criminal conviction before assets could be seized passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it quickly lost much of that momentum due to pushback from law enforcement and district attorneys, and a lack of support from the state’s top officials.

Gov. Kay Ivey put little effort towards achieving civil asset forfeiture reform during the session. She has put less political stock in it as a campaign issue.

Though she has spoken in favor of reform, saying in her response to the Alabama Policy Institute and Yellowhammer News candidate questionnaire that she supports reform “to protect personal property and due process rights of all Alabamians,” she has campaigned and governed mostly as a job-recruiter and appears unlikely to invest much energy in an issue that’s largely invisible.

Attorney General Steve Marshall has spoken strongly in favor of the state’s current asset forfeiture laws.

“As Attorney General, and as a prosecutor for over two decades, I have used and directed the use of civil asset forfeiture where appropriate and find it to be a vital tool for law enforcement that must be preserved,” Marshall responded to a question about civil asset forfeiture in the same questionnaire.

“Like U.S. Attorney General Sessions, I believe that the state has a rightful interest in removing the fruits and instrumentalities derived from crime,” he said.

Though Marshall has said he supports making asset forfeitures more transparent, he believes that current asset forfeiture policy provides for adequate due process.

Artur Davis, the former Alabama congressman who worked on reform efforts during the recent session as part of the Institute of Justice’s team, rightly called Marshall “the lone defender of the status quo” among candidates for attorney general.

Gov. Ivey, too, is easily described as a defender of the status quo. If either incumbent wins, Alabama may have to wait a few more years for civil asset forfeiture reform.

@jeremywbeaman is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News