Alabama unaffected by SCOTUS civil asset forfeiture ruling: State DA Association

 al.com  02/21/2019 00:06:00   Howard Koplowitz | hkoplowitz@al.com

Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning excessive fines through civil asset forfeiture will not impact Alabama because the state already has laws on the books that prevent disproportional penalties, according to the Alabama District Attorneys Association.

“In Alabama, criminal sanctions are required to be proportional to the underlying criminal activity under the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment and also the Alabama Constitution,” said Barry Matson, executive director of the ADAA. “For almost 20 years, the state courts of Alabama have held this protection applies to forfeiture proceedings."

The Supreme Court heard an Indiana case where a $42,000 Range Rover was seized by the state from a man who was convicted of selling $400 worth of heroin. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled the seizure violated the Eight Amendment against excessive fines.

Matson added that while the court ruled that egregious fines like those in the Indiana case are unconstitutional, it did not ban civil asset forfeiture in general.

“I’d also point out that this case does not infer in any way that civil forfeiture is not a valid legal proceeding by the State,” Matson said. “Certainly, it was within the Supreme Court’s wheelhouse to have done so, and it did not."

Matson said that former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Perry Hooper made clear 20 years ago that excessive fines were not implemented in the state.

“As stated by Chief Justice Perry Hooper in 1999, ‘The forfeiture provisions of our code are subject to the excessive fines clauses of the Alabama Constitution, Art. I, § 15, and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution,'" Matson said. “For the intervening two decades, state trial and appellate courts have consistently applied this rule of law.”

« Go back