With less than three weeks until primary elections in Alabama, civil asset forfeiture is back in the headlines.
Earlier this month, incumbent Attorney General Steve Marshall called the process a “vital tool for law enforcement” that “needs to continue” while speaking at a candidate forum. His GOP opponents vying for the Attorney General nomination all say that reforms need to be made.
Civil asset forfeiture is a process in which law enforcement can seize assets, usually cash, that they believe are involved with an illegal activity – without having to file any criminal charges.
Shay Farley is the Alabama policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center. She says law enforcement officials tend to claim this is an important tool in going after major criminals. But the evidence doesn’t stack up.
“The average forfeiture in Alabama is about $1300. Most of these do not have criminal charges brought against them. In fact, most of the cases where there were criminal charges brought, they were for misdemeanor charges – for possession, for paraphernalia – hardly the big baddies that we need off the street.”
Critics say some police departments improperly benefit from civil asset forfeiture. A bill intended to reform the process failed to pass in this year’s legislative session despite initial bipartisan support.