Alabama Enacts New Civil Forfeiture Reforms

On Tuesday, May 25, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey enacted SB210, which reforms state laws that allow law enforcement agencies to seize cars, homes, money, and other valuables without charging their owner with a crime.

The legislation is Alabama’s third civil forfeiture reform in the past four years. In 2018, the Alabama Justice Information Commission and the Office of Prosecution Services voluntarily created a process for reporting state civil forfeiture actions. This was codified in 2019 with the passage of the Alabama Forfeiture Information Recording Act.

With the passage of SB210, Alabama is among the first states to confront the issue of low-value forfeitures by adopting minimum value thresholds. It prohibits the seizure of $250 or less in cash or vehicles valued at $5,000 or less. District attorneys may also increase these minimums on their own initiative.

This is a significant change, because it is simply not cost-effective for even innocent owners to hire an attorney to recover $250 or a low-value car.

The bill includes several other reforms supported by groups across the political spectrum. Specifically, the reform:

  • Places the burden of proof on the state to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that “property subject to forfeiture is an instrumentality of, or proceeds derived directly from, a chargeable criminal offense.” A criminal conviction is considered prima facie evidence that the seized property is contraband.
  • Prohibits any law enforcement officer from inducing or requiring a person to waive their interest in property; and
  • Prohibits law enforcement agencies from transferring property to a federal agency unless it is more than $10,000 in cash. This prohibits the circumvention of state restrictions law by routing them through a federal program known as “adoptive” forfeiture.