By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
Alabama law enforcement agencies seized at least $4.8 million from those accused of criminal activity in fiscal year 2019, at least $2.4 million of which was later forfeited through civil court rulings. About $25,500 was returned in circuit court.
That information comes from a new report given to lawmakers this month and required under a 2019 law. There were 870 seizure events, though those behind the inaugural report admit some data is lacking.
The report does not include information on how much of that forfeited money, or other property, was taken from people who were not charged or convicted of crimes. In 2019, some lawmakers pushed to stop the state’s use of forfeitures without convictions.
Barry Matson, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association and the state Office of Prosecution Services, told Alabama Daily News that the report meets the law’s requirements, but future publications will have more details, including convictions.
Matson said the information in the first report was limited because law enforcement started collecting it prior to the 2019 reporting law using PDF documents. In a few weeks, they’ll begin training on a digital system developed with the University of Alabama, Matson said.
“So, we will have really specific data, I mean like, was the car going east or westbound when it was stopped,” he said.
Some lawmakers want more information soon. Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, sponsored the legislation that became law. His original bill would have stopped forfeitures without convictions. Law enforcement, including prosecutors, opposed that. As passed, the law requires the collection of about 12 data points on seized property.
“I intend to formally request additional information as is delineated in the law,” Orr told Alabama Daily News on Wednesday. “I understand the report can be in summary form; however, it is necessary for policy makers to acquire as much detailed data as possible upon which they can make sound decisions.
“I understand also that we are just starting this process and the data were less than a full year, but I have high expectations for future years.”
Information required to be collected includes:
- The date of the seizure and where it occurred;
- The name of the law enforcement agency involved;
- A description of the suspected underlying criminal activity;
- Any known arrest, including the date and charge, related to the seizure which occurred prior to a forfeiture final judgment of the seized property;
- The disposition of the property, including the date of any order;
- The name of each entity receiving all or any portion of the seized property subject to the forfeiture disposition.
The law also mandates that by February 1 of each year, the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center Commission give the governor and legislative leaders a report of seizure and forfeiture activity for the previous fiscal year, including the type, approximate value and disposition of property seized and forfeited, and the amount of any proceeds received.
The report is also to be posted on the commission’s website.
A statement from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which oversees ACJIC, said the report given to lawmakers is a summary of information in order to protect personally identifiable and criminal justice information.
Also, the ACJIC does not have a website, but when one is created the report will be published there.