On April 20, new legislation was approved by the Alabama Senate to change the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws and replace rules on what law enforcement could forfeit from those charged with low-level drug offenses. Senator Arthur Orr’s bill passed the Senate at 28-0 and now goes to the House.
The legislation was lauded by advocacy groups, who have asserted for years that current forfeiture laws threaten the earnings of low-income individuals and minorities by allowing law enforcement to seize assets without a conviction.
Orr’s initial draft of Bill 210 required forfeiture for criminal drug offenses to be made part of the criminal court instead of the civil court. However, that version received heavy criticism and opposition from law enforcement. On Tuesday, changes were made to Bill 210 as a compromise with the district attorney, sheriffs, and other involved groups.
The new bill sets a minimum value of assets that may be forfeited. Law enforcement can’t seize less than $250 in cash or vehicles worth less than $5,000.
The bill also eases the process of getting seized property back. It requires the prosecuting authority to procure a post-seizure order from the court within a given time frame. Furthermore, it prevents the same property from being targeted by prosecutors at both state and federal levels. Finally, it also proposes that the value of forfeited items must commensurate with the degree of the crime committed.
In a statement to the press, Orr said, “This will put better boundaries around the property of people and raise the bar for the government seizing it and forfeiting it for low-level charges. It will help those poor individuals caught up in our criminal justice system who can’t afford to litigate to keep their belongings.” He also mentioned that however helpful Bill 210 may be to minorities and low-income individuals, it does not change forfeiture protocol for major drug operations.
Orr has attempted to bring change to the state’s forfeiture laws for the past several years. One of the laws he pushed for required more reporting by law enforcement. Initial reports in this context concluded that Alabama law enforcement had seized at least $4.8 million from accused criminals in the fiscal year 2019.
Sources report that Orr believes that although the original forfeiture laws were supposed to help law enforcement go after large drug dealers, they ended up catching a lot of “little fish” in the crossfire. Some of these small drug dealers were never even convicted of a crime, but they had to pay the costs of civil court in order to get their property back.
Barry Matson, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, extended gratitude to Orr for his efforts.
“Asset forfeiture is a critical tool in the fight against crime and criminal enterprises,” Matson said. “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.”
Orr’s bill is a step in the right direction, but anyone who has had their lawful property seized by law enforcement should still consult an experienced civil forfeiture attorney. It can sometimes be almost impossible to retrieve your property without professional legal assistance.
Nationwide Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has law enforcement taken your property using civil forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and get the assistance of a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.