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Civil asset forfeiture reform passes out of committee

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Senate Judiciary Committee gave a favorable report to a bill last week that promises to reform civil asset forfeiture laws in the state of Alabama to provide some basic protection the rights of the accused.

Senate Bill 213 is sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

“This is not about rewarding criminal behavior,”  Orr said. “To look at the process of requiring a conviction before profit is forfeited.  The bill you have before us still has a lot of work to do.  There should be some due process before civil forfeiture can occur.”

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he said that he supports the legislation.

Senator Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, said that he thought some of the reporting requirements in the bill were too “onerous.”

“The bill seems to prohibit any forfeiture,” Williams said. “I do not want to diminish the joint task forces that we have keeping the state safe.  If the bill goes out without any amendments, I will be filibustering on the floor.”

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Lee McGrath a Senior Managing Counsel with the Institute for Justice said that 25 states have reformed their forfeiture laws in one way or another.  McGrath said that it is, “Appropriate to forfeit the fruits of crime,” but “Where do you put the guard rails?”  The right processes should be put in place between security and civil liberty.  McGrath said that 95 percent of these forfeitures are less than $5000.  The matter should go to small claims court and then the owners can represent themselves.

Prosecutors angrily objected to the legislation.

The Executive Director of the Office of Prosecution Services Barry Matson said, “We have been lambasted in the media by these groups.  The process we have in Alabama is open. There is a process that happens in those cases. Many of these things that I have seen published by these groups are not correct.”  “I have a ton of DAs here and law enforcement here,” in opposition to this bill.  “This is written by people who are not familiar with our laws.”

Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Kenyen Brown spoke in favor of the bill.  Brown said that the current law allows law enforcement to seize property and keep some of their property even when there is not any conviction.  Former U.S. Attorney Brown said that the law should treat everyone Innocent until proven guilty and that authorities in Alabama kept over $265,000 of assets where there was never any conviction.  “Currently owners of property have to prove that they are innocent until they get their property back.  We should not promote policies that encourage distrust of the police,” he said.

Etowah County Jody Willoughby was opposed to the bill saying that it would make law enforcement’s jobs’ harder.

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, said, “The system is broken.”

Orr acknowledged that the bill needs some changes, but because time is running out on the legislative session that SB214 be passed out of committee.

SB214 was given a favorable report from the committee.

It now moves on to consideration by the full Senate.

 

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