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House committee advances civil asset forfeiture bill

Civil asset forfeiture is an area that has troubled many civil liberties advocates of both political parties.

The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery.

The Alabama House State Government Committee on Wednesday gave a favorable report to legislation proposing comprehensive civil asset forfeiture reform. The legislation is sponsored by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

The bill is being carried in the House by state Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals. Sorrell is the sponsor of the House version of the legislation, House Bill 394.

Sorrell explained that the bill has been negotiated with law enforcement and the Alabama District Attorneys Association, who support the legislation.

The House State Government Committee is chaired by state Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile.

State Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, thanked Sorrell for his work on this legislation and said that the bill would prevent some of the abuses that have taken place in the past. Sorrell explained that Senate Bill 210 would prevent law enforcement from seizing vehicles worth less than $5,000 or cash less than $250.

Sorrell explained that the legislation would keep “moma from losing her car, if her son, unknowingly to her, is caught with drugs in the car.” Sorrell said that the compromise legislation will continue to allow law enforcement to go after the big narcotics traffickers and to go after the profits of the large cartels.

“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 after the legislation passed the Senate. “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.” 

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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 its 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.”

The bill would require a finding of probable cause by the court before a forfeiture action may be instituted. It also strengthens the due process requirements on law enforcement before they can seize someone’s real or personal property.

SB210 passed the Alabama Senate 28 to 0. Wednesday’s favorable report by the House State Government Committee means that the legislation can be considered by the full House of Representatives if it can get on the special order calendar on one of the three remaining legislative days after Thursday.

Thursday is day 27 of the 2021 Legislative Session. The Alabama Constitution of 1901 limits the Legislature to no more than 30 days in a regular session.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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