THE ALABAMA REDEEMER ACT

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BRADFORD LADNER LLP
Serving Clients in Criminal and Civil Trials and Appeals
In all Federal Courts and Alabama State Courts
251-303-8800 / 205-802-8823

ASSET FORFEITURE ON THE RISE

An Increase In Asset Forfeiture 

asset forfeitureAsset forfeiture is on the rise in Alabama and across the country. So much so, that the Department of Justice has created a webpage (forfeiture.gov) to post and advertise the multitude of forfeited property, cash, and other assets taken across the country either by federal law enforcement or through the combined efforts of local and federal law enforcement.  The current media is full of stories documenting the abuse of asset seizure and asset forfeiture.

Unfortunately, Alabama has some of the worst asset forfeiture laws in the country. According to the Institutes of Justice website:

Alabama’s civil forfeiture laws are among the worst in the nation, earning a D- grade. To forfeit property, the government need only demonstrate to the court’s “reasonable satisfaction”—essentially, by a preponderance of the evidence—that the property is related to criminal activity. Owners who object that they are innocent—and therefore that the property should not be forfeited—bear the burden of proving their innocence, unless the property at issue is real property, such as a home; in real property cases, the government bears the burden. In Alabama, law enforcement keeps 100 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property, creating a strong incentive to seize.

Institutes of Justice

The amount of asset forfeitures is staggering.   Many asset forfeiture situations involve the combined efforts of federal and state authorities.  Under certain programs, federal and state authorities share the seized assets; a program called equitable sharing.  Between 2000 and 2013, law enforcement agencies in Alabama Received $75 million in seized assets as part of a equitable sharing program with the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice publishes a list of Alabama state law enforcement agencies who participate in the program along with the amount of money that they are shared through forfeitures. For example, in 2014 report showed that Baldwin County Alabama obtained $70,547 from the federal government as part of federal government forfeitures. The numbers for the Mobile County Sheriff’s office are similar, showing a little over $70,000. The City of Hoover Alabama and the City of Montgomery Alabama received a combined amount in excess of a half million dollars.

It should be keep in mind that these figures don’t include the asset forfeitures and seizures performed by the same agencies on their own, without any involvement of federal law enforcement.  Alabama law does not require the State to keep a strict accounting of the seizures, nor does the law require that the figures that are known have to be publicly available.  Because of this it is extremely  difficult to determine exactly how much money and property has been taken by law enforcement in the State of Alabama.

It’s not uncommon for authorities to seize cash and other assets even where they do not bring any criminal charges.  In Alabama it’s not necessary to file criminal charges in order to obtain the civil forfeiture of assets. In our practice, we routinely see situations where police execute search warrants or conduct traffic stops but do not find any illegal drugs or contraband.  But they do find cash and other assets, and they seize the money despite the lack of any criminal activity.

It’s not just cash that law enforcement and State of Alabama is after. It has also been our experience for law enforcement to seize all sorts of personal property of value. This includes automobiles, electronics, computers, and just about any kind of property in between. If it has utility or value, it could be seized under the contention by law enforcement that the property was obtained or purchased by using illegally gotten funds.

State of Alabama routinely gets away with asset forfeitures simply because people do not challenge the seizure of the property. Sometimes this is because they failed to receive adequate notice of the forfeiture proceedings in court.  Sometimes it is the result of peoples fear that the authorities will retaliated against if they seek to get their property back. This is especially true in cases where property is seized but no criminal charges are brought. Our experience has proven the opposite of those situations. Typically what we see is that the harder we fight to obtain the assets back, the less forceful the government becomes regarding the overall situation.

You can get your property and cash back.  But you have to be willing to fight, and you will need experienced lawyers to fight for you.  In our experience it is not uncommon for there to be defects in search warrants or other violations of the 4th Amendment in seizure and asset forfeiture cases.  The government cannot keep property if there is a 4th Amendment violation.

In the near future we will be posting additional pages regarding different aspects of the law of civil and criminal asset forfeiture.  These post will be designed to provide information about the forfeiture process and how to fight it.