In op-ed, law enforcement officials admit the truth about civil forfeiture

In response to the Alabama legislature’s efforts to protect residents from unconstitutional civil asset forfeiture, organizations representing sheriffs and district attorneys in the state are asking Alabamians penned a strikingly honest op-ed asking Alabamians to respect their right to steal property without convictions.

Alabama’s Senate voted last week to advance legislation that would require law enforcement to secure convictions against suspects prior to seizing their property. In addition, the legislation would mandate that cash and proceeds from the sale of confiscated goods go to the state’s general fund rather than the banks accounts of the agencies taking the property.

According to the joint letter from the Alabama District Attorneys Association and the Alabama Sheriffs Association published by last week, this will result in more petty convictions and remove incentive for cops to do their jobs. No joke.

From the op-ed: 

Two changes to the state’s civil forfeiture law are especially concerning to DAs and law enforcement. One would allow forfeiture only if there is a criminal conviction; the other would require that any proceeds from forfeitures go to the state’s General Fund rather than local law enforcement. Though these changes may sound good, they would hurt public safety and make civil forfeiture less fair.

Requiring criminal convictions would result in more criminal charges filed and more people going to prison for lesser crimes. Consider pretrial diversion programs, such as drug court, for example. These programs allow people arrested for nonviolent crimes, including some drug charges, to go into treatment and other programs that keep them out of prison. Participants in these programs are not convicted of a crime, so under the proposed change, the only way to deprive them of their ill-gotten gains would be to prosecute them.

Meanwhile, sending the proceeds of forfeiture to the state’s General Fund would result in fewer busts of drug and stolen property rings. What incentive would local police and sheriffs have to invest manpower, resources and time in these operations if they don’t receive proceeds to cover their costs?

The second point there betrays the first claim. If local departments don’t have incentive to go after property, why would they bother racking up convictions for lesser crimes to do so? They won’t, freeing up departments throughout the state to focus on violent crimes (good thing for places like Birmingham) and investigations involving major drug distributors rather than wasting manpower on low level drug offenders.

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