Civil asset forfeiture has become a central issue in the Republican races for attorney general and governor in Alabama. While incumbent Attorney General Steve Marshall has expressed support for the process and Governor Kay Ivey has shown little enthusiasm for reform, their opponents in the primary agree reform is needed.
The Alabama legislature recently attempted to reform civil asset forfeiture in the state. The first draft of the legislation would have required a criminal conviction before property could be seized. Law enforcement opposed this approach. In response, a revised bill was proposed, one which was more limited in scope but would have given more oversight to the process. However, even this limited bill failed.
On May 2, in a candidate forum held in Montgomery, the Attorney General argued against reform. “I support Alabama civil asset forfeiture law as we have it now. I don’t agree that there is no due process,” he said. “It’s incumbent on the state of Alabama to establish the connection of the proceeds that are seized to—somehow or another—the proceeds of a crime.”
Replying to a questionnaire by the Yellowhammer Times, the Attorney General further explained his position. “I have used and directed the use of civil asset forfeiture where appropriate and find it to be a vital tool for law enforcement that must be preserved.”
While the governor has spoken in general terms of protecting personal property, she has focused on her role as a job creator and seems unlikely to focus attention on the issue of civil forfeiture. “I support reform to protect personal property and due process rights for all Alabamians,” she said.
In the race for the nomination for attorney general, two candidate —have spoken strongly in favor of reform.
“We do not want to have the issue of policing for profit,” explained by one of the candidate Alice Martin, currently chief deputy attorney general of Alabama. “We could make reforms that many other states have done and leaving that option there for law enforcement to capture the proceeds… and still give due process to citizens.”
Second candidate, Troy King, himself a former Alabama Attorney General, said, “Innocent property owners who have never been charged with (much less convicted of) a crime, should not have to fear the government being able to take their property.”
In the race for governor, Tommy Battle, mayor of Huntsville, spoke of the necessity of reform but stressed a need for compromise. “People who commit crimes should not benefit from ill-gotten gains. … However, the abuse of this system must stop.”
Another candidate, Scott Dawson of Birmingham, wants to see “stricter reporting requirements.” He explained that data relating to civil asset forfeitures “should be published in a timely manner for optimum transparency and accountability.”
Civil asset forfeiture is also an issue for the Democratic candidates. Sue Bell Cobb, former state supreme court chief justice, argued that if civil asset forfeiture is reformed, then funding for law enforcement should be increased. “Our law enforcement agencies are not appropriately funded. They are hurting.”
Alabama’s primary is held today.
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