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Alabama Prosecutor, Sheriff Threaten to Put More People in Prison in Order to Keep Seizing Massive Amounts of Property

Lawmakers are considering long-overdue civil asset forfeiture reform, and law enforcement leaders aren't happy.

cash forfeiturePhotographerlondon / Dreamstime.comLawmakers are considering eliminating the authority of Alabama police and prosecutors to seize and keep citizens' property and money without actually convicting them of any crimes.

Unsurprisingly, prosecutors and sheriffs in Alabama would like to keep the gravy train going. But they're surprisingly blunt in admitting that they're in it for the money.

In Alabama, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors rake in millions each year through state and federal asset forfeiture programs, seizing people's property and keeping it for themselves, often without ever convicting anybody of an underlying crime.

A recent study showed that in a quarter of all civil forfeiture cases in Alabama, no underlying charges are ever filed, and in more than 40 percent of all civil forfeiture cases, the underlying crimes revolved around marijuana. Due to lax state reporting requirements, it's not even clear how extensively local police are turning to civil asset forfeiture.

In January two Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would require that prosecutors actually convict people of crimes in order to keep their stuff. It would put the burden on the state to prove that the property they want to seize is connected to a crime, rather than for the defendant to prove their innocence. It would move the proceeds of forfeiture to the state's general fund to eliminate the profit incentive for police and prosecutors to try to seize whatever they could get their hands on. And it would close a loophole that would forbid local law enforcement agencies from bypassing restrictions by participating in the federal "equitable sharing" Department of Justice forfeiture program.

On Monday, the head of the Alabama District Attorney's Association and the Alabama Sheriffs Association teamed up with an op-ed that urges against reforms to asset forfeiture. Much of the commentary is similar to other misleading defenses of civil asset forfeiture that we've seen. The commentary insists that "Law enforcement uses civil asset forfeiture only to go after criminals, and state law already guarantees a process that is clear and fair for any person to challenge forfeiture in court. State law also provides built-in safeguards that protect the property of those who have committed no crime."

The commentary here completely, deliberately ignores that because this process takes place in a "civil" system, challenging forfeiture requires people to pay for attorneys themselves. Yet, a good half of the forfeiture cases analyzed by a report put the total value of the seizure at less than $1,500, making the prospect of hiring an attorney to fight back a difficult proposition. And the commentary fails to note that the legal standard to seize somebody's property in a civil system is a threshold far lower than getting them convicted of a crime. The system is purposefully designed to be able to take somebody's stuff without actually proving that they are "criminals."

Then op-ed writers Brian McVeigh and Dave Sutton warn that requiring successful prosecutions will lead to them filing more charges against people:

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.

When you find yourself threatening to find more reasons to put even more citizens in jail in order to protect your revenue stream, it's maybe time to take a step back and think about what you're doing. Also, the bill they're attacking does allow for forfeiture to be pursued as part of a plea agreement, so this claim is wildly misleading. It does not, in fact, require that prosecutors put more people in prison in order to engage in forfeiture.

But then, maybe never mind. In the very next paragraph of the op-ed, they also warn that this reform will result in police arresting fewer people! No, really!

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?

Guys, you're not supposed to actually admit publicly that the purpose of civil asset forfeiture is to keep the money for yourselves and that you only fight crime when you can cash in. And if you're busting "stolen property rings," aren't you supposed to returning that stuff to their rightful owners?

But hey, we'll always have that paragraph to help explain public choice theory to people who want to insist that government employees aren't subject to the same profit motives as the rest of us.

Photo Credit: Photographerlondon / Dreamstime.com

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  • SQRLSY One||

    Extortion racket!!!

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    This being Alabama, I bet the origins of this abhorrent violation of rights can somehow be traced to "negros stealing our white women."

  • Flinch||

    Thanks for spamming Chipper. He deserved that for being a complete reprobate. But next time... feel free to piss off.

  • wuracituj||

    I'm making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

    This is what I do... www.onlinecareer10.com

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Well, that's almost sort of refreshing.

  • Jerryskids||

    Like any good soldier, they're only attacking the enemy. If you're not wearing a blue uniform, you're the enemy.

  • Rhywun||

    "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?"

    Wow. But see, this is the thing. These types can shamelessly tell us the absolute truth about whichever of our rights they're trampling with impunity today and still most people won't care at all.

  • sarcasmic||

    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?

    And people wonder why cops rarely investigate crimes with actual victims. There's no profit in it.

  • Libertarian||

    "We can't curtail asset forfeiture. There's too much money in it."

    -- Hillary Clinton

  • Pro Libertate||

    The SCOTUS needs to reverse this whole idea of NO DUE PROCESS.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The key is that when police take the seized money and use it for public use, the property cannot be taken without just compensation. Take $1000, the state needs to give $1000 in just compensation.

    Its about time to stop letting the state get away with this.

  • John C. Randolph||

    The court has shown over and over that they have little if any interest in enforcing the bill of rights. It's not the courts that will put an end to this unconstitutional robbery. They only way it stops is if we stop tolerating it.

    -jcr

  • Finrod||

    Soap box, ballot box, jury box, ammo box. Seems like we're getting to the 3rd box all too often and soon we'll need the 4th.

  • AZ Gunowner||

    The jury box doesn't work either as the Mesa, AZ and Phil Castile juries proved.

    In Mesa the jury bought the cops defense that since he was trained to murder at the slightest provocation he wasn't guilty of murder when he did it.

    In Castile's case the jury said it is ok for a cop to shoot you if he is "a-scared".

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Civil forfeiture is unconstitutional. The state would need to prove that the private property seized was not the defendants if the state wanted to prosecute more people. The state needs to provide just compensation. Take $100 and give $100 in compensation. The state hates this.

    Amendment V: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    "The government isn't taking anything. The criminal is agreeing to forfeit property in exchange for not going to jail."

    /LEOderp

  • sarcasmic||

    They are not taking private property. They are charging the property with a crime. If you can prove the property is innocent then you can have it back. Otherwise it belongs to the government. It's the property's fault for engaging in criminal activity. If you don't want to lose your property then you need to be mindful of what property your property is hanging out with. There's a lot of shady property out there. You don't want your property to get caught up in the wrong crowd. It might start committing crimes.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Funny, the government doesn't want the valueless property committing crimes like underwear and rope on the side of the road. Not enough money in it.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    Thank you #NeverTrump for allowing the FBI, etc, the precedent of interfering with elections because you hate Trump. No, Trump isn't going to fix this, but do you think someone who would fix this wouldn't face the same behavior from a weaponized, self-interested law enforcement community that is allowed to break the law to make sure the 'wrong' people aren't elected?

    Open borders lead to this, because enough people oppose open borders to lead to the government doing worse than Watergate shit to stop them from getting elected, with cheerleading from the people who should be against what the FBI did on principle. Trump has the wrong opinions on immigration, Trump must be stopped at all costs, precedents to be used against an actual reformer be dammed.

  • Griffin3||

    Wow. That sounds like imcomphrehensible bitching!

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    Anything the LEO/spy community gets away with now is precedent for doing it again later against someone Reason happens to like. Any rhetorical cover Reason gives this behavior will be thrown in their faces when this happens in the future to someone they support. What's not to comprehend?

    You don't have to be a Trump supporter to prefer 4 years of him to letting the DOJ pick presidents.

  • Griffin3||

    See, that made sense. Sort of. I don't see what the spy community has to do with asset forfeiture, but you have a idea here that can be understood.

    The original post in this thread looked like a satire of word soup. Maybe that was before the coffee kicked in.

  • Red Tony||

    I dunno, isn't IBS pretty overt about being a troll due to his username? This guy might really think he's making a rational comment.

  • Zeb||

    That's his style. He used to be a regular commenter.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    You are a prime example of the drawback of open borders.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    Born here, mutherfucker.

    Any realistic attempt to stop or even curtail asset forfeiture will meet with the same #Resistance Trump is facing from the government, even if nobody, myself included, expects Trump to put a stop to this sort of thing.

    Anything the State can do to prevent someone with the wrong views on immigration from holding power, they can do to stop someone with the wrong views on asset forfeiture from holding power.

    Do you trust the State with that power or not?

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Granted, I should've said, "drawback of the open borders mentality." But then you still wouldn't have gotten the joke.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    When you find yourself threatening to find more reasons to put even more citizens in jail in order to protect your revenue stream, it's maybe time to take a step back and think about what you're doing.

    These are not citizens. They're not people. In the criminal justice system, they are widgets moving by on a conveyor belt.

  • sarcasmic||

    Ever noticed that when facing time in jail, many police officers choose suicide instead? It's because they know how the system completely ruins lives. Yet they ruin lives for fun or spite. Says something about the people who choose that line of work.

  • croaker||

    They commit suicide because they know they're in for nightly PMITA, and a shiv in the back when their assholes get too loose to be of use.

  • sarcasmic||

    I thought they were always put into protective custody to prevent that.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Who do you think needs to go into protective custody besides cops? Sex offenders to avoid getting killed.

    Now they're in the protective custody with sex perverts who like to rape and have no access to their usual victims on the street.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    In the criminal justice system...

    ...the people are stolen from by two separate yet equally important groups: The police, who do the actual thieving, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the property.

  • John C. Randolph||

    These two assholes have shown quite clearly that they are not to be trusted with any measure of authority whatsoever. They both belong behind bars.

    -jcr

  • croaker||

    They belong on the compost pile after being sent through the woodchipper.

  • Tony||

    This is one of those situations where it seems like the more loudly they protest the more corrupt the program is.

  • croaker||

    This is Alabama. Corrupt is a given.

  • BYODB||

    It's the Chicago of the South...?

  • Don Glover||

    Just curious. How is civil asset forfeiture different from plain old socialism? The only differences are in degree. Asset forfeiture has the pretense of there being an underlying crime. The only crime in socialism is being more successful than your neighbor. The higher ups ignore the basic premise and enrich themselves while the recipients of the ill gotten goods defend their theft.

    Honestly I thought you'd be on the state's side here too. Not trolling, genuinely curious. If you are unable to answer with any logic, please, use one of your finest ad hominem attacks!

  • sarcasmic||

    Where I live in Maine, all fines and forfeitures go into the state's general fund. As a result there is a lot less "policing for profit" than there would be otherwise. Though the locals do team up with the feds a lot. Before I had heard of "equitable sharing" I didn't know why. Now I do.

  • Libertarian||

    I'm quickly running out of states that I want to live in. And I'm speaking as a Floridian.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Poor bastard. Florida is trending downward fast.

    The recovering economy are probably bringing all those lefties from New England back to Florida. Those old people love to vote FYTW.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Let's face it, Alabama was never on your list to begin with.

  • Griffin3||

    This is true. But Alabama lets you dump ANYTHING in their landfill for $3/ton, so there is that.

  • BYODB||

    Tell your neighbors that they can go to hell, and that you will go to Texas.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Guys, you're not supposed to actually admit publicly that the purpose of civil asset forfeiture is to keep the money for yourselves and that you only fight crime when you can cash in. And if you're busting "stolen property rings," aren't you supposed to returning that stuff to their rightful owners?

    They're not just letting their masks slip, they ripped them off, threw them in a trash can, doused them in lighter fluid, and threw in a lit match.

  • Vandalia||

    I would strongly suggest that everyone send an email to Lyndon.Laster@usdoj.gov the LECC coordinator for the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama demanding that a criminal investigation be opened charging Brian McVeigh with Federal "honest services" fraud. In this article he makes it clear that he refuses to do his job unless he is able to receive a bribe, and under Supreme Court precedent that would seem to be enough evidence to begin a federal criminal investigation.

    One may also contact Vicki Davis, criminal chief for the US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, with respect to Sheriff Dave Sutton. Apparently the southern district is a bit behind the times since they do not have email.

    Nothing will happen, but might as well make some noise for them.

  • Flinch||

    Silly question perhaps, but did Alabama procure the services of a certain sheriff from Nottingham? Forfeiture to "only go after criminals" whose status is magically divined outside of any court at a whim reviewed only by the departments committing the acts of "legal" theft? Where is the alleged ACLU regarding this states penchant to effectively shutter courts in favor of a Judge Dredd style of law enforcement? So much for due process, civil rights and all that. Takings of 'criminal proceeds' that sidesteps any proper judgement has spawned revolutions in times past. What a sad state of affairs, as the looting of the citizenry marches on. It is absolutely on par with the practice of quartering shoved down colonial throats by King George. I'm reminded of sheriffs activity in northern Louisiana about a decade ago where they would plant drugs in order to seize cars they thought would fetch a good price at auction. Wake up Waldo over at DOJ... its time for a RICO case. Meanwhile, do not be afraid of the threat of 'more charges' - the charlatans pimping this are going to get sanctioned in half the cases they dream of filing. Court is the last place they want to be with their same arguments, and they are lying to the public at will.

  • Vandalia||

    One more point, why does District Attorney Brian McVeigh have his own personal website paid for by the people of Alabama with public funds? Go to http://www.brianmcveighda.com/

    Any reporters interested in a Pulitzer Prize need to head down to Alabama and start an investigation of this crook. Where there is smoke, there is fire.

  • Rossami||

    re: "Requiring criminal convictions would result in more criminal charges filed and more people going to prison"

    This is really pretty simple. If you are a Bad Person(tm), you should be going to prison. And if you're not a Bad Person(tm), the government shouldn't be taking your stuff. Not sure why the police can't figure that out.

  • ali sharhri||

  • AlexKorv||

    Heh, Not even surprised.

  • Duke of url||

    If only there was an amendment between #4 and #6.
    McVeigh is a thief, albeit one of the king's thieves.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Well well... an honest robber and highwayman IS a rarity these days. Even rarer is the ability to grasp how this sort of thing--the leper's bell of the approaching looter--causes money to leave banks and brokerages, the money supply to contract, and loss of liquidity to escalate into a chain-reaction of bankruptcies, panics and loss of asset value in securities markets as in 1893-98, 1929-33, 1987-92 and 2007-14. When will they ever learn?

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