By Brian McVeigh and Dave Sutton
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.
Opinion | Vote “yes” for better education
Did you know Alabama’s schools are ranked 52nd in math and 49th in reading? This is unacceptable. Yes on Amendment 1 takes the first step toward improving our schools.
Gov. Kay Ivey has made it abundantly clear. Alabama’s failures in education are not the fault of students or our hardworking teachers, principals and superintendents. The problem is lack of stable, visionary leadership.
Our current system is not working. In Alabama, we’re used to winning. But in education, the state is consistently dead last. We wouldn’t tolerate this kind of performance from our coaches or business leaders, and we must not settle for mediocrity when it comes to our children’s future.
Alabama is one of only six states that still has an elected state school board, and this board has had five superintendents in the last four years.
Amendment 1 gets politicians off the board and replaces them with nine commission members who will bring focus, innovation and accountability to Alabama’s K-12 education system. Our community college system transitioned to this model and has lifted itself out of the mire of scandal by refocusing on student achievement and preparedness.
Commission members will serve no more than two consecutive six-year terms and will be accountable to our elected state senators. They also are required to reflect the diversity of Alabama’s public school students.
Amendment 1 clearly outlines responsibilities for the commission: teacher certification, professional development, student assessment and accountability. In addition, it requires adoption of education standards to replace common core.
Amendment 1 does not take control away from local school boards, and it does not diminish the value of our teachers. To the contrary, Amendment 1 will help teachers, students and local schools by bringing strategic, productive leadership to education policy at the state level.
Gov. Ivey said it best. “For us to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s opportunities, it is time we get serious: It’s time for creativity. It’s time for accountability. It’s time for stability.
“It’s time to vote YES for Amendment 1 on March 3rd!”
Opinion | Alabama’s economic boom should be heard and felt across the state
When I was growing up in Haleyville, I can remember people in July and August saying, “it’s hotter’n blue blazes outside.” Well, you could certainly describe America and Alabama’s current economic boom as being “hotter’n blue blazes.” Alabama’s economy is scorching hot, with the lowest unemployment numbers in our state’s history. One county economic development director told me that “if you want a job, you can find one right now.”
I don’t doubt that’s true, but unfortunately it also depends on what part of the state you live in. If you are willing and able to drive a couple of hours to and from work, then you certainly have many more options. Our Defense and Space industries are experiencing tremendous growth. Agriculture is booming. Alabama is the nation’s second largest producer of poultry – and that’s a good thing.
But we can do even better. A lot of people can’t commute long distances every day to reach good jobs, so we’ve got bring the jobs to them. I believe we can bring high paying, quality jobs to every corner of the 4th District and Alabama and rural America as a whole. We need to rebuild our essential manufacturing base – and that’s something that President Trump has focused on.
And to build upon that, we must prioritize building up our infrastructure. We must expand high speed internet to every square mile of the 4th District and North Alabama. We must protect rural hospitals and clinics to make sure people everywhere have access to high quality healthcare. And we must ensure we have a highly trained work force with the skills employers are looking for.
During a recent visit to a locally owned business in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, I was told they have jobs available, but they can’t find candidates who can pass a drug test. This is why I worked in Congress to allocate more than a billion dollars to fight the opioid epidemic. A highly skilled workforce is essential, but we also need a workforce that isn’t dependent on illegal substances to get though the day. Lack of employment and dependency on drugs is an evil and all-consuming cycle. We can break that cycle.
We also need to make sure our trade policies are based on common sense. We want to increase trade by eliminating unfair foreign trade policies. President Trump did that in the U.S.- Mexico- Canadian (USMCA) trade deal, which opens more markets for American products and helps make America more competitive. That makes a big difference for our farmers, manufacturers, businesses and for consumers. We’ll have more opportunities for common-sense trade deals in the coming years.
It’s also time for us to stop associating social status and class on whether someone has a four-year college degree. Trust me, I know many people who have bachelors and master’s degrees that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. And at the same time, I’ve heard of people who have two-year welding degrees from colleges like Wallace State who are making money we normally associate with a doctor.
Two-year associate degrees and high school vocational classes are just as valuable to our economic wellbeing than an economics degree from Harvard. If someone aspires to achieve a four-year degree, that’s great, but they should never be celebrated more than the person who decides to open his own plumbing business. This is why I’m so supportive of our state’s two-year college system and our vocational schools.
Alabama has so much economic potential. I hope you will join me in making sure we see this economic expansion continues in places like Huntsville, but also expands into places like Lamar, DeKalb and Fayette counties. There’s no reason we shouldn’t all be able to take part in how hot the Alabama economy is right now. As we also used to say in Haleyville, it’s 100 degrees in the shade!
Opinion | I proudly salute our state leadership, Alabamians, our Air Force and our Space Force leadership
Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, according to AFNS in an piece titled, “Department of the Air Force to consider military family support measures in future basing decisions,” recently approved criteria, to assess states’ policies, for accepting professional career licenses, and a community’s public education system, support of military children; as part of its strategic basing process.
The addition of these criteria aims, to ensure locations, under consideration, have sufficient support, for the unique needs, of military families, who relocate frequently.
“The communities where service members, live and work; impact readiness, retention, and the satisfaction of families,” said Secretary Barrett. “Future basing decisions made, will ensure optimal conditions, for service members, and their families.”
The article goes on to explain, some of the issues, that influence the military members decision, to remain on active duty are, local public education aspects, and support for their children; along with their spouses, to sustain careers, move after move.
It also states, the Air Force collaborated with professional, and subject matter experts, to develop two types of analytic frameworks.
The public education framework, will be used to evaluate public school districts’, educational aspects, and ability, to support transferring military children, in Pre-Kindergarten through the 12th grade, near Air Force installations.
The licensure portability framework, will be used to assess state laws, governors’ executive orders, state Supreme Court, or bar association rules, and the ability for an area, to accommodate licenses earned, from other locations.
The article further states, while mission requirements remain the top priority, for where a mission is based, the Air Force has developed, a process, to include these support of military family considerations.
The methodology, for these criteria, will be used for future basing decisions, as the Air Force continues, to collaborate, with policy professionals, and subject matter experts.
The piece ends, with Madam Secretary Barrett’s comments. “We know improving schools, and changing licensure regulations, take time, but efforts to meet the unique needs, of military families are vital. States that have improved services, for military families, should be commended and emulated.”
The criteria will be formally incorporated into the basing process in the spring.
Based on our Secretary of the Air Force’s awesome comments, at this point, I want to respectfully ask all of our state leaders, since the Legislature is currently in Session, that our Great State continue, in our efforts, to lead the way, in making Alabama the most military- friendly state in the nation.
For instance, concerning the licensure portability framework, through Legislation, by waiving all transferring military family, professional licensure fees, and by seamlessly, smoothly moving, and accepting, the professional licensures, from other states, through licensure reciprocity.
Think about military families, having to transfer, every one or two years, and filling out tons of documents, that take weeks, to gather the required pertinent documents, and to complete; and submit all documents. The numerous hours expended, and the fees, and the costs, dollar wise are often exorbitant. Military families, currently in many states, have to pay the same, or higher fees, as they frequently transfer, over and over again.
Remember, also many military families, may have been in overseas locations, and remote assignments, in which their licensure, may have expired; and their required number of continuing professional education hours; could not be obtained, nor met. Due to these extenuating circumstances, Legislation is also needed, in which waivers may be granted, so our military families, may be allowed, to regain their licensure; vice having to start basically, from the beginning processes, or re-test to regain their eligibility; and to receive needed credentials, and required certifications.
Some military families, may face issues, beyond their control, in which no jobs are available at their next duty stations. Families may have to make the tough decisions, to accept a transfer assignment, such as going from two family members working, to one family member working. Legislation is also needed, to support all military families, and their spouses, who want to work and, or attend colleges and universities to obtain their degrees.
Concerning the education framework portion, Madam Secretary Barrett mentioned; our Great State is currently, leading the way, in helping military families. I would also, like to respectfully ask, our state Leaders, to continue with your Legislative initiatives, to build the DODEA, Military Magnet, Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade schools on, or near the base at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base. Along, with your initiatives, to allow the children of military families to attend regional Magnet Schools. Regardless, if families, faculty, professors and instructors live on-base or off-base.
Additionally, add to the Legislation, that families at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base be allowed to attend out of District schools also in Lee County, including Auburn City Schools. In addition, to counties such as Autauga, Elmore and Pike Road City Schools.
In my view, I believe that our Great State, through the highly outstanding leadership, of Governor Kay Ivey. Lt. Gov Will Ainsworth, House Speaker Rep. Mac McCutcheon, Senate Pro Tempore Sen. Del Marsh, and the Legislature, have earned an A+.
I see no other states, nor its leadership, this highly engaged, and proactive, to ensure that military families, are being taken care of, in such a gracious manner. Alabama is the most-military friendly state in the nation. No other state has higher numbers of military- family related Legislative initiatives, on their schedules, nor presently in the works.
Throughout our Air Force and our Space Force, our top leaders and their spouses are visiting families at their on-base homes and on-base military base schools. It touches your heart, when leaders, care about others, and their families.
Respectfully, my recommendation, to our Secretary of the Air Force; if there are any military basing locations to be considered. Please place Alabama, in the number one slot, and at the top of the list. Over the years, I’ve actually had a privileged opportunity, to work with these outstanding problem solvers, and highly distinguished Alabama Leaders. We want more, Air Force and Space Force, military families and neighbors.
I proudly salute our state Leadership, Alabamians, our Air Force and our Space Force Leadership; and all military members, families, civilian employees and the Total Force. You all earned an A+.
Glenn Henry is retired from the U.S. Air Force. He has been a high school teacher and university adjunct professor. He has earned numerous IT Cisco certifications. He is a Certified Professional Ethical Hacker. He lives in Montgomery with his wife Teresa.
Opinion | Primaries next week
Folks, our primaries are next week! On the Democratic side, the Presidential Preference Primary will be the big show and will be interesting to watch. On the right, the Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate Seat will be the marquee event.
In addition to the Senate Race, you have two open Republican Congressional Seats in the First and Second Districts. You also have some important statewide Supreme Court and Appellate Court races on the ballot.
Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Greg Shaw and Shelby County State Senator Cam Ward, are both running to be the Republican nominee for the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, place number one.
Shaw is one of the most introverted, dignified people that ever ran for statewide office. He takes his role as a monk-like non-talking judge to heart. He has not and will not campaign. He thinks it is beneath the jurist to talk to people, much less campaign or shake hands.
On the other hand, Senator Cam Ward is the ultimate people person and campaigner. Ward has worked the state from one end to the other, campaigning in every nook and cranny and county. He has outworked Shaw 20 to 1. However, ultimately in today’s statewide politics, it all boils down to money.
Ninety-five percent of the people who vote next Tuesday will not decide or think about who they are going to vote for until next week. Then after they vote and elect one of them, they will not be able to tell you who they voted for or for that matter who is on the Supreme Court. This one will be interesting and probably close. Whoever gets the most votes Tuesday will be sworn in for a six-year term in January. Winning the GOP nomination for a judgeship in Alabama is tantamount to election in the Heart of Dixie.
Two Jefferson/Shelby metro candidates are vying for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals. State Representative Matt Fridy and Phillip Bahakel are vying for place number 2 on the Civil Appeals Court.
The presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, Mary Windom, should waltz to re-election. However, Criminal Appeals Judge Beth Kellum, who has done an excellent job, could have a tougher race with two opponents.
PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh has an also–ran liberal candidate in her race.
The winners of the March 3 GOP Primary or runoff on March 31 will win the 1st and 2nd congressional districts and go to Washington for 2 years.
The fist district Mobile/Baldwin race is the best and most up in the air. It is a three man race between former State Senator Bill Hightower, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, and Mobile State Representative Chris Pringle. It will be interesting to see which two make the March 31 runoff.
Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman is the front runner to win the open 2nd Congressional district seat. The question is can he win without a runoff. It may be difficult with seven people in the race. He will ultimately win.
As earlier stated the GOP contest for the U.S. Senate is the marquee event on the scene next week. Jeff Sessions is the favorite to win back his seat. However, it will not be a cakewalk. It is doubtful he can win without a runoff. It is a spirited and close race between Coach Tommy Tuberville and Congressman Bradley Byrne to get into the runoff with Sessions. Former Chief Justice Roy Moore has done very little campaigning and will probably get less than 10 perfect of the vote.
All indications point to former Vice President Joe Biden winning our Democratic Presidential Primary. Over 75 percent of the votes cast in our Alabama Democratic Primary will be by African American voters, and Biden has received overwhelming endorsements from almost all of the African American hierarchy and leadership groups in the State. In addition, the two leading African American Democratic Leaders, Congresswoman Terri Sewell and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, have endorsed Biden.
However, Joe Reed’s powerful Alabama Democratic Conference has endorsed former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. It will be interesting to see how Bloomberg fares in Alabama next Tuesday. He has spent a lot of money.
You will see an initiative on the ballot that will ask you if you want to make the State School Board appointed rather than elected. Gov. Kay Ivey is promoting a “yes” vote. She believes an appointed Board is better for education. She would appoint the State School Board, if approved.
Y’all don’t forget to vote.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us
Alabama House passes bail reform bill named for Aniah Blanchard
McCutcheon endorses Chris Lewis for Congress
Litaker challenges opponent to pledge to not run for another office in 2022
Bill to change the process to implement occupational tax advances in the Senate
Opinion | GOP campaign ads are a hoot
House passes bill allowing veterans, active-duty military to get free pistol permits
Atlanta Mayor to campaign for Biden in Alabama
Celebrating Alabama’s Bicentennial
Marsh holds meeting with gaming interests day after Ivey calls for the Legislature to stand down on gaming
Private prison company eyes Elmore County land for one of state’s new prisons
Opinion | Deception, subtlety and the wholesale destruction of current ethics laws mark proposed rewrite
Developer Tim James proposes privately-funded toll road as “catalyst for economic growth”
How Alabama’s government stays broken
Lawmaker files bill to ban treatments for transgender kids
Alabama Democratic Conference endorses Michael Bloomberg for president
New marshal installed at Alabama Supreme Court
Education4 days ago
House passes Tier III retirement for education employees
National3 days ago
Doug Jones: Anniston could still be called upon to treat coronavirus patients
Legislature4 days ago
Bill unlocks the “revolving door” for public employees
Crime3 days ago
‘He was a human being’ Family hopes son’s death at Holman prison not in vain