The Alabama Senate passed a comprehensive civil asset forfeiture bill on Tuesday. State Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 210, which was supported by the Alabama District Attorneys Association and law enforcement.
The sponsor said that Senate Bill 210 aims to protect the due process of property owners in civil asset forfeiture practices.
“This important legislation allows our law enforcement to continue to deter criminal activity and confiscate property obtained through illegal actions, while at the same time ensuring that the due process and rights of the property owner in question are protected,” Orr said. “I appreciate the Alabama District Attorneys Association for working with the legislature to reach an agreement on this critical bill for law enforcement and for the citizens of our state. I look forward to the House now taking up this bill so we can give Alabamians the assurance that their right to due process is protected.”
Barry Matson is the executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association.
“Asset Forfeiture is a critical tool in the fight against crime and criminal enterprises,” Matson said in a statement.
“When the state uses its authority to take someone’s liberty or property, it must be done with transparency and a fair due process. This bill should give confidence to the people of Alabama that it’s legislature, district attorneys and law enforcement expect nothing less,” Matson said. “I must give my appreciation to Senator Orr, Senator Greg Reed and Senate Leadership for working with Alabama’s district attorneys and law enforcement to make this important legislation possible.”
Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner also voiced his support for the legislation.
“The illegal drug trade affects every community in this country and is directly related to most other criminal activity, especially violent crime,” Turner said. “Asset forfeitures gives law enforcement another tool to help disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking in our community. If we can take away drug profits, vehicles or properties that are used to help further the drug trade in our County, it in turn has an impact by disrupting the supply of drugs that are available on the streets, Also, the money gained from forfeitures can be used to buy public safety equipment that helps law enforcement protect and serve our law-abiding citizens throughout the community. I am appreciative to the District Attorney’s Association and our elected legislators for working on this issue and ensuring that law enforcement has every tool available to protect our communities.”
This bill would exempt U.S. currency totaling $250 or less and motor vehicles worth less than $5,000 from seizure and forfeiture. This protects the innocent owner from having to hire an attorney to recover assets of minimal value.
This bill would provide due process protections for owners of property seized without a warrant by requiring the prosecuting authority to obtain a post-seizure seizure order from the court within a certain timeframe.
The bill would require a finding of probable cause by the court before a forfeiture action may be instituted.
This bill would specifically prohibit a law enforcement officer from inducing or requiring a person to waive, for purposes of a seizure or forfeiture action, the person’s interest in property. This would prevent illegal roadside waivers.
This bill would prohibit courts from authorizing the forfeiture of property that is disproportionate to the underlying criminal offense and would create a list of factors a court must use to determine whether the forfeiture is proportionate.
This bill would revise the procedure for an innocent owner whose assets were seized without their knowledge of the crime to enable them to have their property returned to them by deleting certain requirements that they had to prove to meet the burden.
This bill would prohibit a state or local law enforcement agency from seizing property under state law, and then transferring it to the federal government for forfeiture proceedings, unless the property exceeds $10,000.
Sponsors said that the purpose of the legislation is to deter criminal drug activity by reducing its economic incentives, confiscate property used in the violation of law and disgorge the fruits of illegal conduct relating to drug offenses, and protect the due process rights of property owners.
Some civil forfeiture opponents on both the right and the left had wanted legislation that went further, but this legislation was a compromise with Alabama law enforcement that does put some checks and balances in the process and gives individuals whose assets were seized more rights to appeal a seizure and protects poor Alabamians by the minimum requirements.
SB210 passed the Alabama Senate 28 to 0. It has been referred to the Alabama House of Representatives Committee on State Government. Thursday was day 25 of the 2021 Legislative Session.