NBC: Exclusive NBC 15 Obtains Report Showing How Much Law Enforcement Seized

MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) — The state is shining the light on what’s been criticized as the secretive practice of civil asset forfeiture, where police can take what’s yours if they believe it’s tied to criminal activity even if no criminal charges are ever filed. State law now requires more transparency. NBC 15 News has obtained a copy of the first state report released showing how much and what was seized in Alabama.

“If they find cash in a search warrant, they will take it,” said defense attorney Chase Dearman.

As was the case in 2013 when Mobile Police seized $15,000 from William Anderson’s home. The state had to give it back after the Alabama Circuit Court of Appeals later found the money was “illegally obtained” because the search warrant was “improperly executed.”

“This is the United State of America. It’s called due process,” said Dearman.

Dearman is highly critical of civil assets forfeiture and has successfully fought against it. In another case, he says police seized hundreds of thousands from a drug suspect who just so happened to have also won a large worker’s compensation settlement.

“And he had it in his shoe box, and they took every bit of it despite the fact he had documentation of the source of the income,” said Dearman.

A new report that’s now mandated by law to be published shows Alabama last year seized $4.8 million. District attorneys and the arresting agencies keep all of it. The report also shows 470 weapons were seized, 94 in Mobile County alone. That was the highest of any county in the state.

“It’s a very important law enforcement tool that can be used to protect the public. I don’t think anybody wants a drug dealer to profit from what he’s doing,” said Baldwin County District Attorney Robert Wilters.

Wilters has a very simple counter to critics of civil assets forfeiture.

“If we can’t prove our case, we don’t win. We don’t get it,” said Wilters.

Wilters also believes more transparency with reports like this will lead to less distrust of law enforcement.

“The only way we can do that is get the facts to the public,” said Wilters.

To view the full report, click here.

Chase Dearman Wins Drug Trafficking Appeal, Life Sentence Reversed

On May 29th, 2020, the following Conclusion was issued from a ruling by the ALABAMA COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS on the matter of CR-18-0332 Ezingim Demetrius Earl v. State of Alabama as stating the following:

Because the affidavit lacked sufficient probable cause to support the issuance of a search warrant for apartment 206, the circuit court should have granted Earl’s motion to suppress the evidence found in apartment 206. We therefore reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand this case for further proceedings. In doing so, we note that Earl was originally charged with nine counts but that, because Earl agreed to plead guilty to one count of trafficking in marijuana, the State dismissed eight counts. Because this Court holds that the circuit court erred in denying Earl’s motion to suppress as to the apartment, this Court is also setting aside Earl’s guilty-plea conviction for trafficking in marijuana and his resulting sentence of life in prison.

Chase Dearman reverses a life sentence for trafficking marijuana conviction for 27.5 pounds of marijuana. William K. Bradford and Mr. Chase Dearman successfully argued that the search conducted by the police was illegal. The entire ruling by the ALABAMA COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS may be read here.

At The Dearman Law Firm, there’s not a criminal case we won’t handle. From drug felonies to all other criminal charges, give us a call and set up a free consultation.

Chase Dearman of the Dearman Law Firm is a Mobile, Alabama criminal defense attorney handling state and federal criminal cases in Mobile County, Baldwin County, and South Alabama. He has successfully defended countless clients in trials and appeals on all manner of criminal charges.

CONTACT CHASE DEARMAN AT THE DEARMAN LAW FIRM
(251) 445-6997

Alabama Supreme Court

LAGNIAPPE: Judge, lawyer take war of words to Montgomery

“OK, Let me know when I can speak.”

“If you’re going to make an objection, you’re not going to speak.”

“May the record reflect that I’m not allowed to make…”

“Get him out of here. Take the lawyer out. Get out.”

“May the record reflect…”

“Get out.”

“… that I’m being ordered out of the courtroom…”

“Get out.”

“… and the judge has lost his temper…”

“Get out.”

“…. Again.”

“Get out. Take him back.”


From Lagniappe Mobile: Posted by Jason Johnson | Nov 6, 2019 | Bay Briefs

That was the official court transcript from a heated exchange in February between Mobile County Circuit Judge Jim Patterson and local defense attorney Chase Dearman after a probation revocation hearing for one of Dearman’s clients appears to have run entirely off the rails.
The incident led to Dearman being held in contempt by Patterson, and since then, the issue has been appealed, remanded, affirmed and appealed again all the way up the Alabama Supreme Court. It’s one of two cases Dearman has challenged from Patterson’s courtroom and taken up to the high court this year.

Both he and Patterson declined to speak on the record, though much has been laid out in public filings.

The contempt case started during a probation revocation hearing for one of Dearman’s clients who was allegedly found in possession of synthetic marijuana. At the hearing, Dearman objected to a patrol officer positively identifying the substance he found in his client’s car, claiming the officer had “no training in narcotics whatsoever” and that synthetic marijuana was not “regularly identifiable.”

Patterson shot down the objection and maintained the rules for a trial wouldn’t apply during a simple probation hearing, and that the officer was allowed to testify to what he found during a traffic stop. Still, Dearman wanted to object in order to preserve the issue for the record and persisted.

That’s where things seemed to go awry.

According to the transcript, when Dearman tried again to get his objection on the record, Patterson told him “there was no objection” and then repeatedly stated “the rules don’t apply” over Dearman’s continued efforts to support his position. It doesn’t appear Patterson formally overruled the objection.

Patterson later wrote that he threw Dearman out of court because he felt his conduct was “a challenge to the court’s authority” and it was necessary to “promptly punish” him for the behavior. Dearman disagreed and quickly appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

That appeals court found Patterson erred because he never actually told Dearman he was being held in contempt while kicking him out of the courtroom, and because he didn’t allow him “a reasonable opportunity” to excuse or mitigate his actions. However, after it was remanded back to Patterson and a hearing was held to correct those procedural concerns, the appeals court upheld the contempt charge.

Dearman has argued he couldn’t have been challenging Patterson’s ruling on his objection because Patterson never made one saying instead that “there is no objection.” The next stop was the Alabama Supreme Court, which is currently considering an appeal of the lower appellate court’s decision.

It’s worth noting Dearman has had issues with other judges this year as well. In April, District Judge Joe Basenberg held him in contempt and actually briefly detained him for an alleged comment he made after a ruling denying a motion to adjust the conditions of one of his client’s bonds.

Basenberg claims that after his order, Dearman immediately said in open court that the court’s decision was “ridiculous” or “absolutely ridiculous.” Basenberg went on to state that “both the manner and tone of the statement displayed an extreme level of insult and disrespect to the court.”

The other case involving Patterson that Dearman has appealed to the supreme court is also pending, but it has already led to an accused murderer being released from jail. In that case, Dearman claims Patterson revoked a client’s bond “without any legal basis” over his concerns with local court funding.

That client, Calvin Barnes, was charged with murder in 2016 for allegedly killing his brother-in-law, Eric Smith. He was initially scheduled to go on trial in 2018, but was delayed on multiple occasions, some at Barnes’ request and some at the state’s. Eventually, the trial was reset for May 13 in Patterson’s court.

However, three days before the trial began, Barnes made the decision to drop Dennis Knizley as his attorney and replace him with Dearman, who at the time was still in the middle of his appeals battle with Patterson over the contempt charge mentioned above. Patterson perceived the change of attorneys as an effort to delay the case and revoked Barnes’ bond despite the state never asking him to do so.

“This has the feel of the purpose to delay the inevitable. That’s what it feels like to me,” Patterson said at the hearing that day. “And so, frankly, I’m going to revoke his bond because I think — we are too broke. This circuit is too broke to [allow] another precious trial setting to pass.”

Court funding has been a significant focus for Patterson, who has drawn attention on several occasions by stating publicly that the local judicial system is “dead ass broke.” He also attempted to take legal action against the state last year to prevent money collected in local courts from going to the general fund in Montgomery — an effort that led to him being sternly admonished by the Supreme Court in June.

In the Barnes’ case, Patterson set a bond revocation hearing the day after he’d already ordered the bond revoked, which is allowed under the rules of criminal procedure. At the hearing, Patterson himself seemed to acknowledge he was getting into uncharted territory by revoking Barnes’ bond of his volition.

“I will tell you on the record that I did some research yesterday, and I don’t know that there’s any precedent for what I did. This may be an issue of first impression,” the transcript reads. “I stand on the record that I made yesterday about how this case proceeded. I stand on the record about the defendant terminating Mr. Knizley, who has an excellent reputation as attorney, on the eve of trial.”

Last month, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Patterson’s order revoking Barnes’ bond as it considers Dearman’s appeal of the decision. He has since been released from custody at Mobile Metro Jail and has a new trial date set in 2020. Dearman withdrew from his case altogether in August.


Update: After this article was published, Dearman sent the following comment on his contempt previous charge in Judge Basenberg’s courtroom.

“The law of contempt clearly states the attorney shall be given an opportunity to mitigate his actions. The reason for that mitigation is to allow things to cool down. An adversarial proceeding can make for a heated atmosphere. The actual freedom of a citizen is at stake. After five minutes, that is exactly what happened. Both the judge and myself settled down. Although I don’t believe my conduct met the definition of contemptuous, I was wrong and Judge Basenburg was right to call me out on it. I have the utmost respect for Judge Basenburg personally and as a judge.”

Civil Forfeiture in Alabama

Defending Civil Forfeiture in Alabama – Forfeiting Your Rights

Attorney Chase Dearman was recently published by the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice in the following articles regarding Civil Forfeiture:

SPLC, Alabama Appleseed release new report documenting widespread and unjust use of civil asset forfeiture in Alabama

Courts in 14 Alabama counties awarded $2.2 million to law enforcement agencies through civil asset forfeiture actions filed in 2015 – and in a quarter of the 1,100 cases, law enforcement sought to keep property seized from people who were never even charged with a crime, according to a report released today by the SPLC and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice.

The study – Forfeiting Your Rights – paints a disturbing picture of a legal process that was once intended to strip illicit profits from drug kingpins but has since evolved into a revenue-generating scheme for law enforcement, one that is now being widely used against people accused of low-level crimes, particularly marijuana offenses, or no crime at all.

Civil asset forfeiture has been widely condemned across the ideological spectrum as an abusive practice that deprives Alabamians of their due process and property rights. The 1,100 cases examined for the report represent 70 percent of all such cases filed in Alabama in 2015.

Two Republican lawmakers today filed legislation that would, among other reforms, eliminate civil forfeiture by linking future forfeiture actions to criminal proceedings.

“It’s time for Alabama lawmakers to place the burden where it belongs – on the government,” said Sam Brooke, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “Civil asset forfeiture is broken beyond repair. We urge legislators to ensure that only people convicted of a crime can lose their property through criminal forfeiture and to bring transparency and accountability to the forfeiture process. These reforms would protect due process rights and hold those who commit crimes accountable.”

Under current state law, law enforcement agencies can seize property on the mere suspicion that it was either involved in a crime or derived from certain criminal activity. A civil court then decides whether the agencies involved can keep it. In these court proceedings, while the initial legal burden falls on the prosecutor, the low standard of proof means that the property owner carries the burden of proving the property is “innocent” of the alleged crime.

“In Alabama, law enforcement can take and keep your cash, your car or your house – even if you are never charged with a crime,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed. “Civil asset forfeiture turns the basic American principle of innocent until proven guilty on its head. To make matters worse, law enforcement can keep and spend up to 100 percent of the proceeds of forfeited property, no strings attached. It’s a system that incentivizes the pursuit of profit over the fair administration of justice.”

Forfeiting Your Rights profiles Alabamians whose lives have been upended through their experience with civil asset forfeiture.

Dothan resident and car dealership owner Jamey Vibbert had $25,000 seized from his bank account when prosecutors claimed that another man had used drug profits to buy vehicles from him. Even after a judge found Vibbert innocent and an assistant district attorney apologized for the charges, he had to hire a lawyer to get the money back in the civil proceedings.

“I am finally back on my feet after the several months of court proceedings and years of trying to rebuild my reputation as a trustworthy businessman,” Vibbert said.“Even after I was found innocent, I still had to hire an attorney to get my money back from the government. The system is unjust and unfair, and nearly ruined my life.”

Though rooted in centuries-old admiralty law, civil asset forfeiture gained widespread use in the 1980s and in the following decades as part of the War on Drugs. Today, however, drug kingpins are rarely the target. The report found that in half of the cases examined where cash was seized, the amount of cash was $1,372 or less. Because that amount is often less than the typical cost of hiring an attorney to challenge the forfeiture, many cases go uncontested. In fact, in 52 percent of all cases filed across Alabama in 2015, the property owner did not challenge the forfeiture in court.

The original justification for civil asset forfeiture is further undermined by the fact that in 25 percent of the cases, the individual whose property was seized was never charged with a crime. And in 18 percent of the cases where criminal charges were filed, the charge was simple possession of marijuana and/or paraphernalia.

Further, based on both the limited data on race in this study and interviews with lawyers who represent clients in civil forfeiture cases in Alabama, there appear to be racial disparities at work. The report found that in 64 percent of the cases that involved criminal charges, the defendant was African-American, even though African-Americans comprise only about 27 percent of Alabama’s population.

The legislation introduced today by Alabama State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Alabama State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) would require that the forfeiture process occur within the criminal case; ensure that innocent property owners can quickly challenge the seizure of their property; require annual, centralized reporting of all seizures and forfeitures and what government agencies spend forfeiture proceeds on; and prohibit state and local government entities from receiving proceeds from federal forfeiture actions through what is known as the “equitable sharing” program.

“No criminal should be able to profit off of their crime,” Orr said. “Our laws must also protect innocent Alabama property owners. Currently, Alabama law does not provide those basic protections. Our legislation is a win-win: It ensures that law enforcement can hold the bad guys accountable, and protects the rights of innocent Alabama property owners.”

Mooney added, “Individual liberty and property rights are not adequately protected under Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture laws. Our legislation strikes an equitable balance between individual rights and public safety. It preserves the ability of law enforcement to seize and keep the fruits of crime while restoring the doctrine of innocent until proven guilty.”


On Racial Disparities

Anyone can have their assets seized under civil forfeiture. But as is generally true in the American criminal justice system, the law itself might be color blind, but that doesn’t guarantee that enforcement is.

A 2017 study of traffic stops from 16 states for which data were available showed that African-American and Hispanic drivers were more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched in conjunction with traffic stops. African Americans are also more likely than whites to be arrested for using drugs, be jailed while awaiting trial, be offered plea deals that include prison time, be struck from jury pools, serve longer sentences for the same offense, be disenfranchised because of felony convictions, and have their probation revoked.

In Alabama, African Americans make up 54 percent of the prison population3 but only about 27 percent of the state’s population. They are overrepresented in jails at roughly the same rate. And, they are four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite research showing the two groups use marijuana at roughly the same rate.

Based on both the limited data on race in this study and interviews with lawyers who represent clients in civil asset forfeiture cases in Alabama, there appear to be racial disparities at work in the use of civil asset forfeiture as well.

Because race is not routinely reported in civil cases, it is impossible to determine the racial breakdown of all individuals whose assets were subject to forfeiture proceedings. However, the study found that in 64 percent of the cases that involved criminal charges, the defendant was African-American, even though African Americans comprise only about 27 percent of Alabama’s population.

Chase Dearman, a Mobile attorney, estimates he has represented more than 50 people in civil forfeitures cases. In one of Dearman’s cases, police seized tens of thousands of dollars from a black man who had just cashed a roughly $100,000 check from a worker’s compensation settlement. The money was still wrapped in bank tape and was contained in a box along with correspondence from the attorney who had represented him in the matter. Police took the money anyway after finding illegal drugs and paraphernalia on the property. Police also took the man’s TV sets; his fiancée’s sunglasses, purses and dresses; the couple’s couches and coffee table; and two paintings off the walls. The items were all eventually returned, though not until Dearman filed a motion to hold the police department in contempt for failing to comply with the court’s order finding the property was not connected to criminal activity.

Another of his African-American clients had money, electronics, furniture, and football memorabilia belonging to his cousin, a former University of Alabama football star, seized when police searched his home. Yet another had rent money taken from his wallet because police said he planned to sell pills for which his wife had a valid prescription.

“The law is not inherently racist, but I do believe the practical applications become that way,” said Dearman. “I have never had a Caucasian client who has had a narcotics officer unscrew the TVs from their walls and take them out the front door and confiscate them. However, it is a common occurrence with African-American clients.”


Police Abuses Toward Civil Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture is not only fundamentally unfair to property owners and a violation of their due process rights, but it also perverts the basic functions of law enforcement by incentivizing officers to seek revenge instead of enforcing the law to protect the public from criminal activity. The following are two examples of agencies that seized money but apparently failed to even follow the rules of civil asset forfeiture as they are set out in current state law.

In Mobile, Alabama

For more than two decades, police in Mobile failed to follow proper procedure in seeking the forfeiture of cash taken from individuals they arrested, according to Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich, who spoke to Appleseed for this report.

When the district attorney’s office noticed this, it initiated proceedings to have the cash – some of it taken from the wallets of people who never returned to claim their property – legally turned over to the state. The prosecutor’s office’s received $162,615 of the cash.

Rich says her office has since instituted a process by which property that has gone unclaimed for five years can be legally transferred to the state if a judge signs off on it.

Despite having been called out by the county’s top law enforcement officer, it is unclear that Mobile police have reined in improper practices regarding civil asset forfeiture.

Mobile attorney Chase Dearman, who estimates he has represented more than 50 people in civil asset forfeiture cases, said he recently discovered that Mobile police were routinely executing search warrants outside the city without being deputized by the sheriff to whom those warrants were directed.

An unknown number of forfeiture cases have been based on searches executed by un-deputized city police. In 2013, for instance, two members of the Mobile City Police Department executed a search warrant at the Mobile County home of William Anderson. According to court records, they found no drugs at the residence, but they did take $15,140 in cash and a digital scale. They arrested Anderson and charged him with the distribution of a controlled substance based on other evidence, and commenced a forfeiture action against the money.

Anderson pushed back, and with help from Dearman, he won his case and got his money back. “We cannot agree that the good faith exception applies to permit a municipal officer to execute a search warrant directed to the county sheriff,” the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals wrote in its decision. The officer’s “reliance on what appears to be an illegal practice of the Mobile City Police Department is not reasonable.”

Drug Charge Case in Mobile Alabama Circuit Court Dismissed

Sometimes, some things are in our control. Sometimes, those things and the resultant actions are instigated by a member of the public or police that report they saw suspicious activity outside your residence.

A drug charge is a serious issue that could land you in even worse trouble. Unfortunately, an arrest can happen even on mere suspicion. When you find yourself in such a situation, you have one chance to try and make it all right; call The Dearman Law Firm.

DRUG CHARGES CASE IN POINT:

In the State of Alabama vs. Willicious Moffett, in a case where a police officer, Agent Tucker, alleged that he met with a confidential informant affiliated with the Mobile County Street Enforcement Narcotics Team in the past 72 hours, the defense sought to suppress evidence brought forth by Agent Tucker.

Drug felonies in Alabama vary in severity. However, even though the stipulated sentence may also vary, it does not mean that it cannot attract a punishment worse than what is recommended. Offences ranging from Class A misdemeanors like marijuana possession to felonies like drug distribution have seen many citizens off to jail, sometimes for long periods. Fortunately, Chase Dearman has a reputation of putting up an aggressive defense to secure the freedom of defendants.

In the case of Willicious Moffett, Chase Dearman referenced a 1990 appeal of the State vs. Nelms where an informant alleged that they had seen crack cocaine in the house of Tommy Lee Nelms at 625 WestView Drive. The defence was able to establish that the affidavit was defective. The motion to suppress was further strengthened by the fact that the affidavit’s definiteness was lacking, therefore making the search warrant null and void. The search was deemed unconstitutional on this basis and any evidence that was seized, inadmissible.

There was also a reference to the role of a search warrant in the Moffett case that quoted the United States vs. Greany case of 1991. The warrant used was not shown to be current or stale. With respect to Green, 2008, the case presented centered on an informant’s confidential information that Jeff Green was manufacturing and selling methamphetamine in his house and a shed just beside the residence. It was also established that Dothan Swat team snipers had observed continuous foot traffic between the house and the shed. In addition to that, it was established that a strong acidic chemical odor associated with methamphetamine manufacturing was coming from the house.

In this case, the Alabama Supreme Court found that the affidavit couldn’t hold any water. In the ruling, it was found that the affidavit lacked an indication of probable cause. How is this reference related to Agent Tucker and the Willicious Moffett case? Agent Tucker wrote the affidavit himself. Under the law, a police officer cannot exempt himself from the exclusionary rule to hos own actions.

Agent Tucker executing a search warrant that depends on his statement is inappropriate.

Using these arguments and references, the defense were able to show that the evidence that could have incarcerated Willicious Moffett cannot be used in a court, therefore getting the drug charge brought against the defendant dismissed.

Credible defense is not easy to out up, but as it has been demonstrated in the Moffett case. Chase Dearman does go to great lengths to try and assist clients in avoiding jail time.

RECOMMENDATIONS WHEN DEALING WITH DRUG CHARGES

Getting arrested is frustrating. Things can go from bad to worse in a matter in minutes. Here’s a few things you can do to avoid adding to your charge.

1. Talking to the police is a no-no. You are required by law to give out your names and address. Anything other that, you should not say unless in the presence of a lawyer. Worse case scenario, you say more than you’re supposed to and you aggravate your charge. Best case scenario, you play by the rules and call Chase Dearman.

2. Lying to the police will attract another charge and possibly make it worse for you in court. Giving out false information doesn’t look good when your case ends up in court. It may compromise your defense.

3. Don’t resist arrest. Things could be a lot worse. When you are under arrest, stay calm and wait until you are given your phone call to call The Dearman Law Firm. While you struggle against being arrested, you could cause harm to an officer, and that may count as assault.

4. Unless you see a valid warrant, do not accept a search on you or your premises. It is a requisite that a warrant is obtained based on probable cause. This is your right as a citizen.

5. Keep your case private. In this age of social media, anything you post, tweet, or say in the public domain can and may be used against you. Leave any details about your case out of social media.

6. Do not, under whatever circumstances, take any test. This includes polygraphs or lie-detector tests.

7. There is no charge too minor for a lawyer. Anything you do and the resultant charge will show up on records. It might get you in trouble. Whatever issue you have, always call a lawyer. They will come in handy for whatever charge.

At The Dearman Law Firm, there’s not a criminal case we won’t handle. From drug felonies to all other criminal charges, give us a call and set up a free consultation.

Chase Dearman of the Dearman Law Firm is a Mobile, Alabama criminal defense attorney handling state and federal criminal cases in Mobile County, Baldwin County, and South Alabama. He has successfully defended countless clients in trials and appeals on all manner of criminal charges.

CONTACT CHASE DEARMAN AT THE DEARMAN LAW FIRM
(251) 445-6997

Federal Drug Charge

Civil Asset Forfeiture in Alabama: Blurred Lines

Officer Jimmy Bailey accompanied by Officer Carlos Watson entered the residence of Mr. William Anderson with a search warrant and seized in total, $15,140 found in Mr. Anderson’s boot wrapped in a plastic grocery bag and a digital scale on Feb 27th 2013. The two Mobile City officers arrested and charged Mr. Anderson with distribution of a controlled substance based on an investigation carried out by the two officers.

According to Officer Bailey, William Anderson testified that the money seized was from pushers who sold marijuana for him. In addition to that, $10,000 of the seized money was to be used to purchase additional marijuana to sell.

However, in a testimony during trial, William Anderson said he did not remember the conversation concerning the $15,140, with Officer Bailey. Although Bailey said that he had recorded the conversation with Mr. Anderson, there was no record of it admitted into evidence as it had not been submitted to the Defense counsel, Mr. Chase Dearman of the Dearman Law Firm.

Although the State of Alabama vs. William Anderson did go to trial, this isn’t always the case in a state touted as having the worst laws in the United Stated when it comes to civil asset forfeiture. It was also aptly named Policing for profit. Under the civil forfeiture practice, officers could seize a residents’ private property and in most cases, not charge or convict the property owners with any crime. Owners can and usually do permanently lose their property without being guilty of any crime.

Under civil forfeiture, it is not the owners that are guilty; it is the property that is guilty until the owner can prove that it is not. The basis of it is simple while at the same time being mind boggling. If an officer of the law has preponderance of the evidence that suggests your property was used or will be used in a crime, the officer may confiscate it. To that end, the State of Alabama vs. William Anderson case is unique as it lists the owner as the defendant when really, civil forfeiture cases list the seized asset as the defendant as in $3,011 in United States currency vs. the State.

This brings to the fore, not only the credibility of such a law but why it is so common place. By law, officers are not required to be accountable for how much they seize. In Alabama, law enforcement can keep 100% of all seized assets and that creates an enormous incentive for even more aggressive seizures based on more flimsy reasons. In Williams’ case, no drugs were actually found at his residence. Given this kind of incentive and the level of unaccountability, the laws that govern civil asset forfeiture might remain a grey area. In 8 years, from 2000 to 2008, the state of Alabama received more than $40 million in unaccounted equitable sharing proceeds, with figures fluctuating. Federal forfeiture law doesn’t make it any better with equitable sharing. Under the arrangement, state officials can hand over forfeiture prosecutions to the federal government and then receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds — even when state law bans or limits the profit incentive. In the same 2000-2008 period, equitable sharing payments have doubled to $400 million. Seized assets can be sold off by law enforcement agencies, and with the figures not showing up on any audit reports, the proceeds from seizures are used to fund purchases that are in no way related to law enforcement, as in the case of a Texas police station that used monies from seizures to buy margarita machines.

While the initial precedent for the set up of civil asset forfeiture was to cripple large scale criminal entities by diversion of resources in the war on drugs, law enforcement agencies have flipped the law on its head, making it a cash cow that most residents would rather not follow up on as lawyer fees for the procedures for the legal regaining of the seized property is too costly, most times exceeding the value of property. For residents like Williams Anderson the cards have been stacked too high against them.

However, there is hope. In William Anderson vs. State of Alabama, the defense challenges the authority of Officer Bailey and Officer Watson to conduct a search and seizure operation, as Officer Bailey had not been deputized by the sheriff, which would give him authority to conduct the search citing United States vs. Martin, 600. F.2d 1175 (5th Cir 1979) “a search pursuant to an Alabama warrant executed by a municipal officer in cooperation with county sheriff’s deputies was valid even if the deputies were present merely to legitimate the search” In this case, the warrant was not issued by a district court judge, not a municipal judge, and it was directed to the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office.

It is also interesting to note, that Officer Bailey, during trial did admit that the residence of Mr. Anderson did not exist within his Mobile city limits jurisdiction.

The appeal judge, Judge Thomas brought to the light the illegality of the practice during the appeal hearing when he said, “…Officer Bailey’s reliance on what appears to be an illegal practice of the Mobile City Police Department is not reasonable in light of the statutory directive of section 15-5-7 that a search warrant be executed by the officer to whom it is directed or at his or her direction and in his or her presence.”

He continues, reversing the judgment of the trial court and remanded the cause to the Mobile Circuit Court for entry of a judgment that conformed to that opinion, adding that since the currency seized at Mr. Anderson’s residence was illegally obtained, the currency could not form the basis of a forfeiture action.

With Alabama among some of the states with the worst civil forfeiture track record, a number of reforms have been suggested by the Institute of Justice.

  • Law enforcement should be required to convict people before taking their property
  • Forfeiture revenue must be placed in a neutral fund, therefore police and prosecutors are not paid on commission.
  • Assets that have been seized should be accounted for.
  • Equitable sharing be abolished.
  • Providence of a lawyer to owners challenging asset forfeiture.
  • Placing the burden of proof on the government to prove the owner is involved in or aware of criminal activity.

References

ALABAMA COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS – William Anderson v. State of Alabama Appeal from Mobile Circuit Court (CV-13-900819) – http://www.dearmanlawfirm.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/court-appeals-anderson.pdf

Asset Forfeiture Abuse – https://www.aclu.org/issues/criminal-law-reform/reforming-police-practices/asset-forfeiture-abuse

Brendan Kirby(June 2015) When cops seize money or property in Alabama, it’s owner’s burden to prove he’s innocent – http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2015/06/when_cops_seize_money_or_prope.html

John Kramer (March 2010) Alabama Earns “D” In “Policing for Profit” Report – http://ij.org/press-release/alabama-earns-acanadacana-in-acanapolicing-for-profitacana-report/

Chase Dearman of the Dearman Law Firm is a Mobile, Alabama criminal defense attorney handling state and federal criminal cases in Mobile County, Baldwin County, and South Alabama. He has successfully defended countless clients in trials and appeals on all manner of criminal charges.

CONTACT CHASE DEARMAN AT THE DEARMAN LAW FIRM
(251) 445-6997