Civil asset forfeiture is a legal practice that allows law enforcement to take possession of private property—cash, vehicles, real estate, etc.—if it is suspected of being connected to criminal activity. In many states, an individual doesn’t even need to be charged with a crime before their property is taken.
Alabama law awards 100 percent of the proceeds of successful forfeitures to the law enforcement agencies doing the seizing and the prosecutors handling the cases.
The lawsuit challenging Alabama’s forfeiture laws was filed on September 23 by Hailima Culley, whose 23-year old Tayjon was arrested on February 17 in Satsuma after police found less than an ounce of marijuana on him during a traffic stop. Police seized the marijuana and the defendant’s 2015 Nissan Altima.
The case against the 23-year-old man has since been disposed. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession and was sentenced to two years of probation. His vehicle wasn’t returned.
The lawsuit is a class-action case because it can include “anyone who has had their property seized” in Satsuma. It names Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich, and the city of Satsuma as defendants.
The case seeks a judge to declare the state’s civil asset forfeiture to be a violation of the Eight Amendment, which protects citizens against excessive fines imposed by the government. It also claims the law currently enables law enforcement agencies to violate the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and violates the Fourth Amendment by opening the way to illegal searches.
The lawsuit comes at a time when lawmakers in Alabama are starting to scrutinize the practice of law enforcement seizing private property even if the owner hasn’t committed a crime, as was the 23-year-old man’s case.
Earlier this year, the Alabama House unanimously passed Senate Bill 191, the Alabama Forfeiture Information Reporting Act, which would improve transparency around asset forfeiture cases in the state. It requires all law enforcement agencies to report: property seized during arrests, arrests connected with seizures, location of the seizures, dispositions of the property, and proceeds collected by the agency.
The bill was signed into law in June by Governor Kay Ivey, and the information will be released publicly early next year by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center.
Critics of civil asset forfeiture say the Alabama’s laws are among the worst in the nation. The state was graded as a “D-” by the Institute for Justice because of the low bar for enforcement agencies to forfeit assets even without a criminal conviction. However, the organization noted that Alabama is one of 32 states that has passed some sort of reform since 2014.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire an attorney. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.