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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Local Judges Bow Out

Blogger Comments:  Not one judge in Morgan County will hear the two upcoming cases against our previous sheriff Ana Franklin.  There's a reason.  We believe they all know she is guilty as sin.  The DA sued Ana Franklin for taking inmate food funds.  We can only hope he went back for the past four years to see how much money was taken from the inmate food funds.  We would not be surprised if it isn't over $160,000.00.  Yet Ana and the men feel slandered.  What about us?  Talk about slander go back and read some of the papers, better yet go back and watch the live Channel 48 news feed.  

Bradley and Daniel Lockhart committed fraud because they told the truth.  How ridiculous is that?  Ana and the men she relied so heavily on had ample time to object, appeal, and request a new hearing.  Did they do that?  The answer is no.  No, they didn't but they sure want to cry foul now.  

You disagree with a judge's findings, you fail to appeal the ruling, and then you cry like a baby because you got caught red handed.  Cry me a handful.

It is going to take someone other than the whistleblower to feel sorry for Ana Franklin, Bones Wilson, Blake Robinson, and Justin Powell.  We hear you, folks, even deputies saying "at least we are through with that chapter of the book".  You may be, but the whistleblower, Warden Bradley, and Daniel still have to live with the aftermath.  We will get over it someday but you can't imagine what we have gone through.  We believe that in some small way we made a difference.  We stood firm and did not let Ana Franklin, Bones Wilson, Blake Robinson, and Justin Powell continue to destroy the sheriff's office, employees, and the citizens of our county.  Each time it crosses your mind, thank the lord that you no longer have to deal with these people and try and remember us.  We have a long way to go.  

Speaking of coming a long way, what about the inmate food bill?  Will it pass through the House this time around.  It blew through the Senate.  Oh well, there's always the posse funds.

After local judges recuse, Lauderdale judge to hear former Morgan sheriff's cases


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Morgan County Sheriff Ron Puckett talks inmate mental health


This is a story Channel 19 did four days ago as one of their "Leadership Perspective" series.  We just now found it.  Sorry about that.

He’s been on the job for about three months, and as the former police chief in Hartselle, Morgan County Sheriff Ron Puckett already understood many of the issues confronting the sheriff’s office – one of them is responding to a call about a mental health crisis.
“We try to talk them into going to the hospital, and if they refuse to go to the hospital, generally speaking, they’re going to do something such as disorderly conduct and make us have to arrest them. We choose to arrest them because if we leave, if there’s nothing we can do, we leave and pretty soon we get a call and they’re back at it and we have to respond again. So we arrest them and put them in our jail. Our jail is incarceration, it’s intended to be punishment, it’s not set up for mental health care. In our jail, it’s probably 40 percent of our inmates that are going through a mental health crisis and that’s why they’re in our jail.”
Here's the link to the story and the full interview.  

Alabama Senate passes bill blocking sheriffs from pocketing jail food funds

BLOGGER COMMENTS:   We're halfway there.  Now, on to the House!

A bill to place new restrictions on sheriffs’ use of taxpayer money intended to feed jail inmates passed the Alabama Senate today.
The bill, by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, comes in response to reports of sheriffs in several counties pocketing for personal use some of the money intended for inmate meals. The bill would also increase the state allocation to counties for jail food.
Orr said the bill would prohibit sheriffs from using any state, federal or municipal prisoner food funds for personal use or for salaries in their offices by closing a loophole in what he called an archaic state law.
Orr said most sheriffs have used jail food money properly. But there are documented abuses in some counties, and Orr said he has heard in the last year from people who had to cook meals to take to their sons and grandsons in jail to keep them from being underfed.
In a press release, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor, president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, said the association supports the bill.
“Over the last several years the Alabama Sheriffs Association has sought repeatedly to make this change, but to no avail." Taylor said. "Our hope is that the House of Representatives will bring closure by also passing this bill and allowing us to continue protecting our citizens and making our society a better place to live.”
Here's a link to the full story.  BTW, the vote was 31-0!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Feelin' down but not out

We greatly appreciate all our get well-wishers. We have come a long way together since October 2015. 
During the time we established the blog, the whistleblower had a difficult setback. Family tragedy is a difficult pill to swallow but you have to handle your hardships with grace, honor, and humor. 

During 2016 we continued to post daily. As we dug deeper into the activities of the SO’s office, those in power within the SO and an ex-ALEA Officer knew they had to do something and do it fast. An illegal search warrant was prepared for Warden Bradley’s home and the whistleblower’s office. Life was good for the sheriff. Finally, she would shut down the whistleblowers and her wicked ways could continue unreported.  She did not understand the power of the people from the sheriff's office, the whistleblowers, and help from the public. She didn’t see it coming. 

The whistleblower filed a lawsuit and submitted a request to return her illegally seizure of her equipment.  Billable Barney claiming the state had the IT equipment but then had to admit that he could deliver the equipment to the whistleblower by 12 noon. How many lies did Billable tell in one court setting? Billable sure didn’t want the court to proceed that day. The question is why? His clients were guilty as sin and there were some there to ready to testify. Poor Billable was shot down. Now he is a subject. To date, the whistleblower has not gotten some of her property back. Warden Bradley has received none of his property back. 

More importantly, no punishment has come to any of the accused. Absolutely Nothing. The ex-ALEA agent allegedly spent weekends in jail and all his felonies were dropped and he was punished for a mere misdemeanor. To date, we have not seen anything happen to John Vinegoni for his part in the Title Mart scheme. Could it be that law enforcement is taking care of their own? Is anybody looking at any of those proven to be corrupt? We may never see these thugs arrested and charged with the things they did. Look!  It’s been 3 years! 

We have personally suffered at the hands of these thugs. Who cares? Sometimes it seems like nobody. Awww! But wait! There are some who cared. For example, Judge Thompson did not like being lied to. He took action and kicked butt. Yet! Still, these thugs are walking around. We hear one of the thugs bought a house in Lawrence County. Another one is a dead beat dad. What a coward. Go get some of your cash out of storage. All claim to have better jobs than what the SO paid. That may be true but only if you deduct all the overtime, lack of time actually on the job, and no access to rodeo funds. Will they be punished? Doubt it at least not legally but karma is a bitch that tends to slap us in the face. Is it worth it to sell your soul to the devil for riches on earth? Never. Yet that happens a lot. These particular souls came dirt cheap.  As you walk through your daily life on earth you will forever be looking over your shoulders waiting for that tap and a voice saying 'come with me'.

In the meantime, the rest of us can take heart.

Montgomery Update

BLOGGER COMMENTS:  This is the weekly date from the Reckon newsletter.  Just keeping you informed on what's going on down there.

Well, for some reason the graphics aren't posting.

Reckon Report Card

A glance at the Reckon Report Card — which you can see first if you join our Reckon Policy & Politics group on Facebook — will reveal that the so-called ‘ethics’ reform bill is on life support as of last week. But columnist Kyle Whitmire says the bill — which would have removed many of the restrictions on Montgomery lawmakers — is still “twitching”.

Also likely dead is Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s bill to repeal Common Core, which education reporter Trisha Crain said is “going nowhere fast.”

What else is on tap this week in Montgomery? Statehouse reporter Mike Cason reporters there are four key issues expected to come up:
  • The House Health Committee will hold a public hearing on Wednesday on a bill that would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion in Alabama. Anti-abortion advocates in Alabama said this is the year to seek an outright abortion ban in hopes of getting a Roe v. Wade challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court. The public hearing will be the first-time lawmakers have discussed the bill.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will have a public hearing Wednesday on a bill to repeal the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
  • The committee will also consider a bill to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession. Several efforts to do that have failed in the last few years.
  • The House State Government Committee will have a public hearing Wednesday on a bill to legalize sports fantasy contests in Alabama. Fantasy contest operators would have to register and pay a tax on their revenues.
And in other news:

We have a new member on the Alabama Ethics Commission. Gov. Kay Ivey has appointed former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Lyn Stuart to a seat on the commission formerly held by Frank C. “Butch” Ellis Jr., whose term expired.   Let's hope she stays busy.

Alabama’s WBRC Fox6 News obtained a cache of images taken inside St. Clair Correctional Facility reportedly from a former corrections officer. The horrific images depict the brutal, bloody violence of the prison from inside its walls.
And if you're wondering just what smell is.....

Poop Train
“Alabama has become a dumping ground for the country as waste from all over the US ends up in its landfill sites,” British newspaper The Guardian wrote Monday about Alabama’s landfills. The story focuses on dumps in Jefferson County and Alabama’s Black Belt, and last year’s ‘poop train’ debacle.

“The flies were so bad that you couldn’t walk outside without being inundated by them,” one West Jefferson resident told The Guardian about the poop train. “You’d be covered in all sorts of insects. People started getting headaches, they couldn’t breathe. You wouldn’t even go outside to put meat on the barbecue.”

Meanwhile, the University of Alabama is researching another poop problem: the use of “straight pipe” systems to dispose of wastewater and sewage into the woods or even backyards in Alabama’s impoverished Black Belt.

Friday, April 12, 2019

To recuse or not to recuse. That is the question for Judge Howell

BLOGGER COMMENTS:  Judge Howell is a 'good buddy' to a certain former sheriff and was re-elected running unopposed in the last election.  She is known around the courthouse for her off-the-cuff and sometimes off-the-wall comments and also her use of inmate labor on her private property.  The Blog has often pointed out such behavior.  She is 'covered' by the 'system'  as evidenced by the unanimous decision by the Court of Criminal Appeals denying the request for removing her as the judge on these two cases.

The link to the whole article is here:

A man facing two capital murder charges asked the Alabama Supreme Court on Thursday to remove Morgan County Circuit Judge Jennifer Howell from his case for alleged bias in statements she made in sentencing his co-defendants.   His younger brother, charged with the same crimes, has requested Howell to recuse herself for the same reasons.
Both Joseph Cowan, 24, and Cedric Cowan, 20, filed motions asking that Howell recuse herself from cases in which they are accused of a three-day spate of Decatur robberies and shootings, two of them fatal, in 2015.
Some of those statements from Judge Howell include:
“This is probably the worst case I’ve seen, you know, just more senseless violence than people can imagine and they can dream of,” Howell said to Mitchell in court on April 20, 2018, according to a transcript. She said she had taken her child to the scene of the Wilson Morgan Park shooting, and told her what happened.
“And, you know, I know you weren’t the shooter, I understand that, and I don’t think anybody puts a gun in your hand,” Howell said to Mitchell during the sentencing hearing. “But what keeps me awake about that is you never had to go. You never had to go the first night; and, after knowing what these brothers were capable of, you went back.”
“The court ... stated that she was affected by the offense personally and discussed it with her own child after showing her the location of the killing of Joshua Davis," the lawyers argued in appellate court. "The court further characterized Mitchell’s role as ‘being along for the ride’ as compared to the parties the court deems to be the most culpable ones — ‘these brothers.’ ”
It is inappropriate for Howell to preside over Joseph Cowan’s trial after already indicating in court that she views him as guilty, the lawyers said.
"You know, it’s important to me that you’ve been honest about what happened and your involvement in that,” Howell said to Goodwin in a Jan. 26, 2018, hearing. “And I think that that probably had a hand in why the sentence was offered to you as it was.”
By deeming the statement by Goodwin to be “honest” — without hearing him testify or hearing contradictory testimony — Joseph Cowan’s lawyers argued Howell was showing bias.
Howell denied Joseph Cowan’s motion Feb. 21 and reaffirmed the trial would go forward April 29. Joseph Cowan appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, asking that it force Howell off the case and delay the trial. Appellate Judge Mary Windom last week wrote the unanimous opinion rejecting both requests.
On Thursday, Joseph Cowan appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court.
More Blogger Comments:  OK, they're innocent until proven guilty, but these young men are in some deep kimchi and would be found guilty even if Nancy Pelosi was the judge.  But still, even Miss Nancy knows enough to keep her mouth shut.  So should Her Honor.  

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Standoff Averted

BLOGGER COMMENTS:  After years of publicizing the utterly stupid, clearly illegal, and shameful activities of the sheriff's office, it's still a treat to cover an incident where a by-the-book response by the deputies took care of the issue.  Someday, such 'routine' activities will no longer be 'newsworthy'.  In the meantime, let's celebrate.  
Here's the link. 

Morgan County Sheriff’s Office deputies serving a felony warrant Sunday at a home on Holladay Road in Danville were involved in a brief standoff with a man who barricaded himself in a bedroom, according to a release.
Deputies safely removed the man’s parents from the trailer while maintaining communication with the man, the Sheriff's Office said. After continued discussion, Matthew Kevin Johnson, 34, surrendered to authorities without further incident, the office said.
Johnson was booked in the Morgan County Jail on two misdemeanor warrants and one felony warrant for second-degree theft and is being held with no bail, according to the office.
This could have easily gotten out of hand.  Way too many times do we read that while serving a 'routine' warrant, police are met with gunfire and there's usually at least one dead.  That's why you follow procedures instead of winging it in front of cameras.    Good job.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Great Stuff from RECKON

BLOGGER COMMENTS:  The folks down at publish a newsletter every Tuesday with updates of the political goings-on in our fair state.  It's a FREE subscription if you are interested.
I've posted a link below:

The highlights or lowlights this week:

State Sen. Greg Albritton, left, sponsored a bill that would gut Alabama’s ethics rules.

Yes, you read that right — the Alabama Legislature is trying to gut its own ethics rules. A new law proposed by 11 senators, including Alabama Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, would make sweeping changes to Alabama’s rules.   Among those changes, according to Reckon’s Kyle Whitmire:
·    Lobbyists and principals (the people or companies who employ lobbyists) can currently not give lawmakers gifts worth more than $25. That cap would be removed.
·    Make theft of government funds or outright bribery under $6,000 a misdemeanor… for public officials and employees. Members of the public would still face felonies.
·    Principals — that is the people who employ lobbyists — won’t do time for giving things of value to public officials.
·    The Alabama Ethics Commission would no longer have authority to field ethics complaints from citizens, investigate potential ethics crimes nor refer complaints for prosecution.
There are other worrying provisions in the law, but that last one is particularly important, as it means enforcement powers would shift to elected district attorneys who often lack the resources or expertise to take complicated and potentially years-long corruption cases to trial.

“If Jefferson County’s district attorney can’t handle a public corruption case, how is a district attorney in Clay County supposed to?” Whitmire writes. “Or Clarke? Or Crenshaw?”

“The lawmakers who drafted this bill know good and well what district attorneys are equipped to handle and what they’re not,” Whitmire writes. “If they don’t know, then they’re willfully ignorant.” According to Whitmire, this bill ensures corruption won’t be prosecuted.

But wait...there's more

What else is happening this week? Reckon’s statehouse reporter Mike Cason writes that these are his expectations:
  • On Tuesday, the House will consider the General Fund budget and a bill to give state employees a two-percent raise.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, to eliminate the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed handgun. Allen has proposed that for several years.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will also consider the bill by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, to prohibit racial profiling and require police to keep records of all traffic stops, including the race of the driver.
  • The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will consider the bill by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, to eliminate marriage licenses and instead have couples file a marriage document that would be recorded by probate judges.
And this:
The U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing report on conditions in Alabama prisons last week, highlighting problems with overcrowding, understaffing, violence, suicide and mental health.

“The violations are severe, systemic, and exacerbated by serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision; overcrowding; ineffective housing and classification protocols; inadequate incident reporting; inability to control the flow of contraband into and within the prisons, including illegal drugs and weapons; ineffective prison management and training; insufficient maintenance and cleaning of facilities; the use of segregation and solitary confinement to both punish and protect victims of violence and/or sexual abuse; and a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive,” the report says.

The report, which included shocking details from inside the state’s jails, recommended a sweeping set of immediate changes to Alabama prisons.

Alabama prison commissioner Jefferson Dunn has also come under fire due to concerns his focus on new prison construction causes him to ignore spiraling problems in the state’s prisons. “Part of the problem is that Commissioner Dunn came into his role without any corrections background,” Maria Morris, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC, said of Dunn. “It’s good that he’s thinking outside the box. But he’s also not looking at the things that are in the box.”

Attorney Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights wrote in an op-ed that the time for an “Alabama solution” to our prisons problem is over.

“The time for negotiation is over,” Geraghty wrote. “The federal government needs to step in, and a federal court order with significant and clearly articulated penalties for noncompliance is the only way forward. How many more people must die before that much is clear?”

And this:
Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville has thrown his hat into the ring for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Doug Jones. Tuberville, a Republican, says he’s running at the urging of his wife, and because he comes from a military family and regretted not serving.

Time Keeps on Slipping

Lots of folks believe there is nothing else going on with our previous sheriff.  Well! You're wrong.  There is enough going on that it excites us.  Four years worth of records may be very telling when all the chips fall where they may.  There are some records that don't lie.  Bank records for one.  You can lie, cry, and refuse records but when those records are really wanted and the state wants you to pay back any and all funds you have taken through some kind of surreptitious means they intend to get their money back.

There is also a sentencing hearing in May.  There are lots of things still moving and shaking and we pray they pay off.  There were some pretty dirty dealings with previous Morgan County Law Enforcement personnel, ALEA agents, and others that have been stopped.  We do not expect to ever see this kind of corruption in Morgan County again.

We see the current Morgan County Sheriff's Office going about their daily business, making arrests, patrolling our roads, and protecting our citizens with little fanfare.  No, they haven't rid the county of all METH dealers, nor have they succeeded in breaking up all the drug rings, burglaries, domestic violence, and other crimes but here is what they are doing.   They are diligently working.  Nobody is running off to Oklahoma for a rodeo, or moving horses, or purchasing rodeo gear, pageant dresses, horse trailers, and the like pretending its all for the good of the SO. 

Some things that do continue to trouble us.  What happened to all those things that were purchased with MCSO money?   Where is it now? 

How many of the holdovers are left in the SO?  Probably not many.  It hasn't taken long for those who aided and abetted the last sheriff to show their true colors.  These folks can't hide.  Some used their position to prepare tapes for the previous sheriff, some drove her rodeo vehicles, some found money in her truck.  Lots of money.  Cash money.  Money that will never be seen again.  Most of the culprits are gone but we can almost bet their dirty deeds will follow them like the plague.  They just didn't become corrupt in 2011 out of the blue. 

Can you help find this young lady?

Morgan Sheriff's Office asking for help locating missing teen

Monday, April 8, 2019

What is the current stats of Greg Steenson?

Blogger Comments:  We understand that Greg Steenson is still in jail.  We can't help but wonder when his day in court will come.  We have waited a long time to see some of the local issues resolved once and for all.  We have watched as some of those involved lost their jobs or didn't run for office again.  We have to admit to the change in sheriff's office management things have come a long way since January 2011.  

Getting back to Steenson.  He has been in jail for a long time.  It would be nice to see at least some closure to the havoc that he, the previous sheriff, and others caused around the county.  We may never see the closure that many of us believe we deserve.  It sometimes appears that those who invest their time in screwing others come out way ahead of the rest of us.  Don't believe it.  They laugh, snicker, point their fingers at us, they make jokes because they lie, cheat, steal and they believe they got away with their wrongdoings.  They didn't.  That is why they are constantly looking over their shoulders, believe they are being followed, or someone is watching them.  They are.  It's called their conscience or lack thereof.  

One day for the whistleblower, Warden Leon Bradley, and the rest of the people hurt by the good-for-nothing conduct of previous law enforcement officers we will be able to close this chapter of our lives as if it was just a bad dream.  No.  Not a bad dream.  It is a reoccurring nightmare.  

Wonder who the next private investigator will be sent down to Georgia to try to make a deal?  We believe that what Private Investigator Dawn Hendricks did was wrong, unethical, and just plain stupid.  Don't leave the state without a license. 

There is a lot to be said for all the hard work that went into getting rid of the ash and trash that used to call themselves law enforcement in Morgan County.  It may be a while before some of us can move on but the great thing for our county and those who currently work for the Morgan County Sheriff's Office have a new leader.  A leader that is going to do the right thing for his office, employees, the county, and the citizens of our county.

Keep in mind that when we are blowing off steam that it has nothing to do with our current situation,  it is from things still to come.

Man indicted for 'con game' at crooked car lot where sheriff invested food funds

Greg Steenson is held in the Limestone County jail. Because of ties to the Morgan County sheriff, he isn't being held in the county in which he's charged.
Greg Steenson is held in the Limestone County jail. Because of ties to the Morgan County sheriff, he isn't being held in the county in which he's charged.
A man has been indicted on 15 felony charges for a "con game" at a now bankrupt crooked car lot where the Morgan County Sheriff invested jail food money, authorities said.
Greg Steenson, already a federal felon, has been indicted on multiple charges of theft, forgery, fraud and financial exploitation of an elderly person, court records show. He's also accused of selling unregistered securities and selling securities as an unregistered agent.In 2015, Steenson was co-owner of Priceville Partners, LLC., which operated a used car lot in Morgan County. Steenson sold or traded to eight people vehicles for which he didn't hold legal titles, according to the indictments.
"The victims either paid cash to Steenson or traded their vehicle, or a combination of the two, for vehicles for which the victims were unable to obtain titles," said Dan Lord, a spokesman for the Alabama Securities Commission, in a news release "Additionally, Steenson allegedly forged the signature of two victims on title applications."
Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson called Steenson's activity a "con game."
The car lot has repeatedly made news during the past three years, including when it was revealed Sheriff Ana Franklin had used the local jail inmate feeding account to invest $150,000 in Priceville Partners. The sheriff was held in contempt of court because she violated a federal court order by using the inmate food money. The sheriff and other investors have not been charged with any crimes associated with the car lot fraud allegations.The sheriff's ties to the car lot first surfaced when Priceville Partners filed bankruptcy.
The sheriff's ex-boyfriend Steven Ziaja also was listed as a creditor in the bankruptcy filing. Ziaja, a now-former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency employee, has been indicted on more than a dozen charges, including using his position for personal gain. Authorities haven't said publicly whether his charges are connected to the car lot.
Steenson initially was arrested for theft and forgery in August 2016. A grand jury this past week issued indictments on those charges as well as charges brought by Joseph Borg, director of the Alabama Securities Commission.
Steenson was released on bail after his initial arrest, but Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson today ordered he be held without bond. Anderson's office asked for a bond revocation because prosecutors say he violated the terms of his release.
"Part of his bond conditions was he couldn't buy, sell or trade vehicles," Anderson said. "But he went to Birmingham and engaged in the same con game with two car dealers, promising he would deliver if they would invest."Because of Steenson's ties to the Morgan County sheriff, he is being held in the Limestone County jail.
Steenson went to federal prison for a check-kiting scheme in the 90s.

The things some folks will do...

Blogger Comments:  Shockingly enough it wasn't our previous sheriff.

Former candidate arrested on computer tampering charges

Friday, April 5, 2019

Editorial: Civil forfeiture goes against innocent until proven guilty

From the Daily:

BLOGGER COMMENTS:  This issue has been simmering on a back burner too long.  Right after the Supreme Court ruling on Amendment 8*, the reaction amongst law enforcement officials and state attorneys, seeing the possible loss of income, came up with a statement sorta like:  we have a system, we have a process and Alabama is just fine, thank-you-very-much.  Hah!

Alabama lawmakers have a chance again this year to end a practice that stands “innocent until proven guilty” on its head.
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and state Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, are sponsoring a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in Alabama.
When someone is convicted of a crime, they often must forfeit any property or proceeds they gained via their criminal activity. This is criminal asset forfeiture.
Civil forfeiture, however, is when the government files a civil case against the property itself. This happens before defendants are convicted of any crime. Sometimes it happens without a person even being charged with a crime.
And because it is a civil proceeding, innocent until proven guilty does not apply. This leaves some people who have been found not guilty in a court of law, or not even tried in the first place, fighting to get their property back.
“Civil asset forfeiture was sold to the public during the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ in the 1980s as a tool for taking drug kingpins’ ill-gotten gains,” Whatley writes in a column published this week. “But in practice, drug kingpins are rarely the targets. In South Carolina, more than 55 percent of the time when police took cash, they seized less than $1,000. That’s likely money that people needed for rent, childcare, groceries, or clothes.”
Earlier this year, Alabama district attorneys agreed to voluntarily collect information about civil forfeiture cases in the state. As we said in this space at the time, that is a step in the right direction, but it is nowhere near far enough, and Whatley agrees.
“It’s not enough for a voluntary system of generalized data compilation to be set up by the same government actors who benefit financially from keeping forfeiture processes secret,” he writes. “The public should know exactly what local and state governments are doing with the money and assets they take from citizens — something the voluntary system does not accomplish.”
Alabama’s civil forfeiture laws are in desperate need of reform. They are among the worst in the nation.
The libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice gives Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture laws a D- grade, noting that in “Alabama, law enforcement keeps 100 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property, creating a strong incentive to seize.”
According to the Institute for Justice’s Nick Sibilla, if Orr and Whatley’s bill were to become law, “Alabama would be just the fourth state to eliminate civil forfeiture, following the lead of Nebraska, New Mexico and North Carolina.”
Their bill would do four things, Whatley says:
1. Require the government to use the criminal process to forfeit property, meaning only people convicted of a crime could have their money and assets taken.
2. Strengthen the interests of other property owners — such as spouses, parents, business owners and creditors — who are often not aware that their property seized and forfeited was involved in, or produced from, criminal activity.
3. Require annual reporting of all state and local government seizures and forfeitures and how the proceeds are used.
4. Limit the state’s participation in the federal government’s asset forfeiture to prevent skirting of state law.
Alabama lawmakers have a chance to set the scales of justice right by reaffirming innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. They should not pass it up.