Courts in 14 Alabama counties awarded $2.2 million to law enforcement agencies through civil asset forfeiture actions filed in 2015 – a practice some Alabama lawmakers is hoping to end. Civil asset forfeiture essentially allows law enforcement take and keep property even if its owner isn’t convicted of a crime.
On Wednesday, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to change the civil asset forfeiture process in hopes of protecting the property and due process rights of Alabamians.
Under current state law, law enforcement agencies can seize property on the mere suspicion that it was either involved in a crime or derived from certain criminal activity. A civil court then decides whether the agencies involved can keep it. In these court proceedings, while the initial legal burden falls on the prosecutor, the low standard of proof means that the property owner carries the burden of proving the property is “innocent” of the alleged crime.
“Civil asset forfeiture is broken beyond repair,” said Sam Brooke, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “We urge legislators to ensure that only people convicted of a crime can lose their property through criminal forfeiture and to bring transparency and accountability to the forfeiture process. These reforms would protect due process rights and hold those who commit crimes accountable.”
HB287: the Forfeiture Accountability and Integrity Reform Act, or FAIR Act, introduced by Indian Springs-Republican State Rep. Arnold Mooney, would do just that. The legislation would put an end to civil asset forfeiture in Alabama in the absence of a criminal conviction.
25 states and the nation’s capital city have already already gotten rid of civil asset forfeiture without a conviction.