Alabama Passes Asset Forfeiture Accountability Bill

On Monday, June 10, 2019, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill into law, SB 191 which now imposes strict reporting requirements for all asset forfeiture cases in the state. The Tenth Amendment Center reports that this “legislation takes the first step that could lead to substantive reforms, including closing a federal loophole that allows police to bypass more strict state asset forfeiture laws.”

Alabama’s newly signed law requires law enforcement agencies in the state to write up detailed reports on every forfeiture carried out in the state. Mike Maharrey notes what this bill entails:

The new law requires Alabama law enforcement agencies to submit detailed reports on every forfeiture in the state, including information on whether there were any arrests in connection with the seizure, the disposition of cases, and how asset forfeiture proceeds were disbursed.

On top of that, this law also addresses asset forfeiture cases that involve the feds:

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The legislation specifically directs the Criminal Justice Information Center Commission to establish rules for reporting asset forfeiture cases in cooperation with the federal government and when an Alabama law enforcement agency receives equitable sharing proceeds from a federal forfeiture case.

This bill was unanimously passed in both chambers of the Alabama State Legislature, receiving a 33-0 vote in the Senate and a 102-0 vote in the House. Although the passage of SB 191 doesn’t directly reform Alabama’s asset forfeiture laws, it does serve as a building block for future reforms. Through its increase in transparency, SB 191 enables Alabamians to witness what civil asset forfeiture entails. Such transparency can serve as a catalyst for future change.

The specific provision which requires documented reports of all cases handled by the federal government could lead to the closing of the “equitable sharing” loophole. Under equitable sharing, state and local police can circumvent strict state asset forfeiture laws in a large number of cases. Law enforcement agencies can bypass strict state forfeiture laws just by declaring they are federal in nature.

Not only do law enforcement agencies kick these policies off to the feds, but they’re able to get fat proceeds from these seizures. Civil asset forfeiture, a practice that raked $4 billion in seizures in 2014, is a racket and corrupt law enforcement agencies will do what it takes to maintain it.

Alabama’s recent forfeiture law is a good start, but future legislation should focus on tightening up Alabama’s forfeiture laws and closing the equitable sharing loophole.

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