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.