Alabama Appleseed files amicus brief to rein in civil asset forfeiture and policing for profit

civil asset forfeiture

Alabama Appleseed — a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to work to achieve justice and equity for all Alabamians —  joined a diverse group of twelve organizations asking the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) essentially to rein in civil asset forfeiture.

The unique practice of civil asset forfeiture, which some consider to be “policing for profit,” allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they suspect is part of criminal activity. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.

Now, Alabama Appleseed along with organizations the include the Drug Policy Alliance, FreedomWorks, NAACP, and Americans for Prosperity, have specifically asked the SCOTUS to find that the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted,” applies to all 50 states.

The brief reference a case the SCOTUS agreed to hear back in June, Timbs v. Indiana. The case, an Indiana man named Tyson Timbs used his 2012 Land Rover to purchase and sell heroin throughout the state. He later pled guilty to dealing and conspiracy charges, paid approximately $1,200 in fees, and received a six-year sentence: one year of home detention and another five years on probation. Additionally, the state of Indiana sought forfeiture of his Land Rover because he had used the vehicle to transport drugs. But Timbs had bought the vehicle legally with proceeds from his father’s life insurance policy. In court, the Indiana Court of Appeals refused to allow the civil asset forfeiture, finding it “would be “grossly disproportional to the gravity of [Timbs’s] offense” and such actions violated the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause. However, on appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the decision saying the Eighth Amendment clause does not apply against the states.

According to Alabama Appleseed, this amicus brief “highlights the broad, ideologically diverse consensus around the need to restrain governmental abuse of civil asset forfeiture programs.”

“Civil asset forfeiture has evolved from a program intended to strip illicit profits from drug kingpins into a revenue-generating scheme for law enforcement that is widely used against people — disproportionately African American — accused of low-level crimes or no crime at all,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed. “We join a diverse set of organizations… in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize that civil asset forfeiture’s current incarnation has become a stark example of the abuse of power that the excessive fines clause was meant to curtail.”

In addition to Alabama Appleseed, a full list of signatories to the brief include:

  • Drug Policy Alliance
  • FreedomWorks
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School
  • Americans for Prosperity
  • Law Enforcement Action Partnership
  • Independence Institute (Colorado)
  • Libertas (Utah)
  • Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
  • Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i
  • The Rio Grande Foundation (New Mexico)

Read the full brief below: