Controversy boils over asset forfeiture bill

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Controversy stirs as a bill on asset forfeiture goes to the state senate.

Even if you haven’t been convicted of a crime, police can keep your property. Senator Arthur Orr from Decatur wants to change that. 

Advocates for the bill say the criminal justice system takes advantage of people the way the law is now. On the other hand county district attorneys say the types of cases this bill would deal with may not be what you think.

The Alabama bill would stop law enforcement agencies from seizing your property if you haven’t been convicted of a crime. The way it works now, police can keep what’s yours with a civil court order even if you’re found innocent. 

Advocates of the bill, like Alabama Arise, believe reform is needed.

“We see the overarching atmosphere as being heavily employed against people who are in poverty, people who can’t afford to fight back, and it gets people who are members of racial minority groups,” said Dev Wakeley, policy analyst with Alabama Arise.

The asset seized here is usually money.

“And in extreme cases you could be talking about people’s homes,” Wakeley said.

But it’s usually money, or as the Alabama District Attorneys Association would call it, drug money. The association opposes the bill. 

Madison County’s DA says many cases like this involve informants.

“They may be presented with an opportunity to give up the proceeds of their criminal activity, but to help themselves,” said District Attorney Robert Broussard.

He says the bill would make their system to take down drug lords unworkable and the way it is now a civil court order is needed for law enforcement agencies to keep property.

“Frequently they don’t even claim the money and frequently they’re not gonna come up here and contest,” Broussard said. “They know what they are, we know what they are, and if they were to come to court the judge would know what they are.”

Money from seizures goes mostly to the law enforcement agency.

Other states have been changing their laws on this issue. WZDX News also spoke with investigators at the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office who believe the issue is up for debate now because of the nationwide push.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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