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) – https://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

Mobile County Court Courtroom

LAGNIAPPE: Rare conviction does little to console family of texting-while-driving victim

Connie Hamilton was in slow motion.

From the moment she heard the news about her 24-year-old daughter, Randi Hamilton — who had been rushed to the emergency room at University of South Alabama medical center minutes earlier — she didn’t feel like she could move at normal speeds.

“I knew she was really bad … then the emergency room doctor came in and knelt down, took my hand and I knew what he was going to say,” she said. “When that doctor told me that she didn’t make it, it just was slow motion right after that and I don’t remember when I came out of [it].”

Randi was on her way to one of her final classes as a student at the University of South Alabama when she was killed as a result of a collision caused by a Mississippi man who Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich said was “fixated” on his phone at the time of the crash.

The former Theodore High School cheerleader was thrown from her truck before her body hit a pine tree and landed in a driveway. Connie Hamilton was later told by witnesses that homeowners in the area formed a prayer circle around her.

“That made me feel a little bit better knowing she didn’t die alone out there,” Hamilton said. “I have a really hard time, even now, believing she’s gone. It’s just hard for me to believe and every day I just trudge on.”

Randi was just three weeks from graduation and along with her aunt had been planning a party in anticipation of the big day. In one of the toughest situations her mother had to take on, those plans had to be scrapped for a funeral.

“I was — I had family around me that helped me, that told me what to do,” she said. “Pretty much they had to tell me what to do.”

Randi’s sister, Samantha, joined their mother in wanting to do one last thing for her. Connie said they wanted to dress her “to a ‘T’” for the funeral, but when it came time for the service at Travis Road Baptist Church, they decided to close the casket.

“We just had to do that,” Hamilton said. “I think back on it now and it’s hard for me to even think about that because of seeing your child in a casket. Nobody should ever have to do that.”

Family life
Connie Hamilton divorced when Randi and Samantha were young, so for much of their life it was just the three of them together in Theodore. As typical siblings growing up, Randi and Samantha didn’t always get along. Connie Hamilton said once both of them moved out on their own, though, they grew closer.

“They had just started getting into that, which was really, really nice to see,” she said. “It’s really satisfying as a parent to see them finally getting along with each other and really enjoying each other’s company.”

The relationship between the three women meant a lot to Samantha as well, as detailed in her impact statement given to Circuit Judge Robert Smith at the sentencing hearing of the Mississippi man convicted of manslaughter for the crash that killed her sister last week in Mobile.

“My heart breaks due to this tragedy,” Samantha said. “For the rest of my life, we will both cry for Randi. We will cry together and we will cry separately.”

In the statement, Samantha described long, “unbearable” nights and how she has cried in bed for two years thinking of her lost sister.

Plans for the future
Like most college seniors, Randi was looking forward to graduation and had been starting to research future employment leads as a biomedical major with a marketing minor. As a vet tech for much of her early working life, Randi was hopeful she would secure a job as a pet pharmaceutical sales representative. She had found a job opening with a new company in Daphne and had filled out an application before the wreck.

“That application was found on her bedside table,” Connie Hamilton said. “She was intending on faxing it that week.”

An alumnus of USA herself, Hamilton said she knew how it felt to have a degree in her hands and wanted Randi to graduate.

“Just to have that diploma in your hand and know this is something you achieved yourself,” she said. “I really wanted her to feel that and she never did. She never got the chance.”

Randi was always the type of person looking for the next adventure, her mother said. It didn’t have to be all that exciting; in fact, it could simply be the next holiday on the calendar, but Randi was always in the mood to plan for it. She was planning for bigger life events following graduation as well.

“She was looking forward to starting a family,” Hamilton said. “She and her boyfriend had plans of getting married.”

In her impact statement, Samantha also mentioned her sadness over never being able to become a maid of honor for Randi, nor Randi returning the favor “when I make the step to become a wife.”

First-of-its-kind conviction
The driver of the truck that hit Randi’s vehicle, Jonathan Mikael Raynes, was later charged with and convicted of manslaughter as a result of the wreck — a conviction Rich called a first-of-its-type case in the state.

Raynes was sentenced on April 6 by Judge Smith to 10 years split with two years to serve in prison and two years’ probation. The other eight years were suspended, meaning if Raynes violates the terms of his probation he could serve more time.

During the hearing, Rich asked for a 10-year sentence split to serve five years, arguing Raynes had a number of recent traffic citations and had been involved in a wreck in Louisiana before the Mobile case went to trial.

Raynes’ attorney, Chase Dearman, did not return a phone call to his office this week requesting comment for this story. The case is being appealed and while the appeal process takes place, Raynes is out on a $60,000 bond.

While Rich told Smith the eyes of the community were on him as he sent a message with the sentence, Dearman argued his client’s actions merited only probation and no jail time.

“Jonathan was in a car accident … and the jury found him guilty of looking at his cell phone,” Dearman said. “I’m guilty of that…. There is absolutely no reason why probation or front-end diversion type of sentence won’t work.”

Dearman also told the judge that his client, who doesn’t speak well in public, was sorry for what happened to Randi. Several witnesses spoke on Raynes’ behalf during the hearing, including his father, a neighbor and the preacher at his church near Purvis, Mississippi.

After Smith ruled, Hamilton said she hadn’t thought much about the sentence.

“I’ve never been focused on the sentence for him,” she said. “I wanted the felony conviction that would stay with him the rest of his life because this will stay with me the rest of my life.”

While Rich said she believes this is the first conviction in the state for the relatively new texting law, it doesn’t mean district attorneys will seek the same charges under similar circumstances.

“This was an extremely egregious case,” Rich told a gaggle of reporters following the sentencing. “He uploaded pictures of himself to the phone while driving … and toggled on social media between women he wanted to meet.”

She added her office would be willing to help teach other prosecutors in the state how to successfully bring and win similar cases in the future.

A growing trend
During the hearing, Dearman brought up how common it is to see drivers texting while traveling various thoroughfares around Mobile. Rich also made mention of how common it has become, in asking Smith to make an example of Raynes. For her part, Connie Hamilton said she hopes Randi’s death can serve as a reminder to area drivers to stay off phones while driving.

“Seriously, it’s not worth it,” she said. “It’s not — nobody should have to bury their child and it’s just not worth it. You know it doesn’t matter what the phone call is, or what you’re doing with your phone. Wait until you’re not behind the wheel to do it.”

With the proliferation of smartphones and the sheer number of vehicles on the road, Hamilton said she doesn’t believe the problem will go away.

“You see young people these days and they’re so attached to their phones,” she said. “I don’t see that getting any better. I don’t see people shying away from their phone.”

In 2015 Alabama State Troopers wrote 682 citations for texting while driving, trooper spokesman Cpl. Jess Thornton said. Since the law was enacted in August 2012, more than 1,400 tickets have been written.

The law can be tricky to enforce, though, Thornton said, because it’s not illegal for a driver to be on his or her phone; the driver has to be texting.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article misidentified the judge presiding over the manslaughter case.

Via: Lagniappe written by Dale Liesch.

Mobile County Courthouse

Defense Begins For Turtle Creek Apartments Murder Suspect

MOBILE, AL (WALA) – 20-year-old Terri Grant and 19-year-old Jordan Johnson were back in court Wednesday morning for an arraignment hearing.

Grant and Johnson are accused of killing 31-year-old Kahled Al Mashni Saturday, March 26 at the Turtle Creek Apartment Complex.

Tuesday a judge set bail at $250,000 dollars each. Grant pleaded not guilty. Johnson said his family is still working on getting an attorney.

The state asked for $200,000. Wednesday the judge added a $25,000 cash component after the state said it had a photo of Johnson holding firearms and thousands of dollars in cash.

Chase Dearman, attorney for Grant argued that she was not a flight risk, nor a danger to the community. He said Grant grew up in Mobile County and was medically discharged from the National Guard.

The courtroom was tense Wednesday morning. Family of the victim muttered things under their breath as Dearman spoke for his client.

Tuesday, a brother of the Mashni said they’re asking for justice.

A preliminary hearing will be held April 15.

Content via: Fox10 Video via: Local15

Chase Dearman 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

Mobile County Court Courtroom

Dearman Defends Second Day In Texting And Driving Manslaughter Trial

Testimony continued today in the trial against 23-year-old Jonathan Raynes. Raynes is charged with one count of manslaughter in the death of 24-year-old USA Student Miranda Hamilton. The prosecution says that Raynes was using social media and dating applications while driving. They say his negligence on the road caused this fatal accident.

The accident happened on April 14th, 2014 in front of the Learning Tree on Lott Road. Raynes hit Miranda Hamilton’s green F150 head-on with his white Dodge truck. Hamilton was ejected from her vehicle and later died.

The prosecution called on six witnesses to testify about what occurred before, during and after the fatal crash.

The first witness to take the stand was Charlie Winsted. Winsted and his wife Michelle both worked at the Learning Tree and were heading to work the day of the accident. Winsted testified that his wife stopped their black Honda Accord on Lott Road while waiting to make a left turn into the Learning Tree’s driveway. He says that he saw Rayne’s Dodge pick-up approaching their car from behind at a very fast speed before seeing him clip the back of their car before swerving into the other lane and hitting Hamilton head on.

Mobile County Court CourtroomAnother witness on the road at the time, Clayton Wiley said he was driving behind Raynes and witnessed the fatal accident.

Both drivers said they believe Raynes was speeding at the time of the accident.

Miranda Hamilton’s boyfriend at the time of the accident, Christopher Lowry also took the stand. He testified that he arrived on the scene after Hamilton had already been transported to USA Medical Center. He says that he walked to her flipped truck and took her purse and her phone. He says that he has those still today because it’s all he has left to hold onto.

Via: WKRG

 

Chase Dearman 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

Mobile County Courthouse

Dearman Defends Alleged Texting And Driving Manslaughter Case

The Dearman Law Firm is currently defending an accused man on charges of Manslaughter related to texting and driving in Mobile County Court in Mobile, Alabama. This case is developing and details will emerge as they are available.

Chase Dearman 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