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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.


1 comment:

  1. Amen Kudos to stand up individuals. They are few and far between.