Sheriff’s Op-Ed Begs Alabama To Keep Civil Asset Forfeiture

Anders Hagstrom | Justice Reporter

As the Alabama legislature considers reforming its civil asset forfeiture policy, state police are becoming more and more insistent that they keep the power.

Alabama’s legislation would make two major changes to civil forfeiture: It would require police to criminally convict a property owner before forfeiting his property, and would prevent law enforcement from directly benefiting from the proceeds of a forfeiture. An Alabama Sheriff has teamed with a state district attorney in an op-ed criticizing both changes, however, claiming they would inhibit police ability to fight crime.

Critics of asset forfeiture claim police have a dangerous incentive when they can forfeit property and turn it directly into department funding. Alabama lawmakers claim it’s also an unconstitutional violation of due process, as police aren’t required to charge anyone with a crime before taking property. Further, prosecutors assume the property’s guilt and the owner must establish in court that it wasn’t used in a crime.

Sheriff Dave Sutton and District Attorney Brian McVeigh, however, claims the laws shouldn’t change. They argue both that forfeiture is essential to effectively fighting crime and that police need a monetary incentive to do the procedures.

“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?” they ask.

If civil forfeiture is truly essential to fighting crime, should police require an additional monetary incentive to do it?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a staunch advocate for civil forfeiture throughout his tenure, issuing new policy guidelines in July encouraging law enforcement officers to make more forfeitures. (RELATED: Manhattan DA Is Doling Out $734 Million In Forfeiture Funds With Virtually No Oversight)

Federal authorities took more than $4 billion through forfeiture in 2015, and most states allow departments to keep the vast majority – if not all – of the proceeds from the forfeitures they make. North Dakota and Massachusetts are tied for the worst states in the U.S. on civil forfeiture, according to a study from the Institute for Justice. Both received an “F” from the group on the issue, but the rest of the country isn’t much better — a full 21 states are tied at a “D-,” including Alabama.

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