Subj: Are Forfeiture Laws Abused?

The Alabama Supreme Court thinks forfeiture laws are abused...
Robert Huff v. Alabama



No. 2980029
COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS OF ALABAMA
1999 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 436
July 9, 1999, Released

PRIOR HISTORY:
Appeal from Blount Circuit Court. (CV-98-147).

DISPOSITION:
AFFIRMED.

JUDGES:
CRAWLEY, Judge. Robertson, P.J., and Yates and Thompson, JJ., concur.
Monroe, J., concurs specially.

OPINION: CRAWLEY, Judge

AFFIRMED. NO OPINION. See Rule 53(a)(1) and (a)(2)(A), A.R.App.P.; Ala.
Code 1975, 20- 2-93(a)(4) & (a)(9); Johnson v. State, 667 So. 2d 105 (Ala.
Civ. App. 1995); Wherry v. State ex rel. Brooks, 637 So. 2d 890 (Ala. Civ.
App. 1994); and $ 10,000 U.S. Currency v. State, 598 So. 2d 979 (Ala. Civ.
App. 1992).

Robertson, P.J., and Yates and Thompson, JJ., concur. Monroe, J., concurs
specially.

MONROE, Judge, concurring specially.

I wholeheartedly agree with the affirmance of the trial court's judgment
denying the State's forfeiture petition. I wish to emphasize that Alabama's
drug forfeiture statute requires the State to show that forfeited property
constitutes, or was derived from, proceeds of illegal drug activity. An
individual's personal property cannot be subject to forfeiture unless the
State shows some nexus between the property to be forfeited and illegal drug
activity.

As I stated in my special writing in Kelley v. State, [Ms. 2970009, May 15,
1998] ___ So. 2d ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 1998), my understanding of the purpose
behind implementing the drug forfeiture laws was to prevent "drug lords" from
bankrolling their lavish lifestyles with the huge profits they were reaping
from the sale of illegal drugs. Toward that end, the money derived from drug
sales, and any property that was purchased with the proceeds from drugs
sales, such as yachts, jets, automobiles, and homes, were made subject to
forfeiture. That is a policy with which I completely agree. I also agree that
forfeiture laws should 0be used to take away any property or currency used in
furthering the production, importation, sale, receipt, possession, or
concealment of drugs.

However, abuses of the forfeiture law have been cropping up with
uncomfortable frequency. During my tenure on this court, I have seen numerous
examples of people's personal property being confiscated based merely on
speculation of illegal drug activity, and often, as in this case, there is no
showing that the property to be forfeited is in any way related to the sale
of illegal drugs. For example, in Ex parte Kelley, [Ms. 1971725, June 11,
1999] ___ So. 2d ___, ___ (Ala. 1999), the Alabama Supreme Court reversed a
judgment in a civil forfeiture case in which a Pontiac Grand Am valued at
$30,000, which had been purchased by the defendant's grandmother, was
condemned.

The defendant was charged with possession of a controlled substance, an
offense carrying a maximum fine of $ 5,000. The evidence was undisputed that the vehicle had not been purchased with any money derived from the sale of drugs. The Supreme Court reasoned that the forfeiture was "grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense."

Id. at ___. In Kelley, the Supreme Court quoted favorably from this court's
opinion in Dent v. State, 714 So. 2d 985, 987 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997), cert.
denied, 714 So. 2d 988 (Ala. 1998), stating, "'When the government is
empowered by law to confiscate the property of its individual citizens, we
must require it to exercise that power with the greatest of care.'" Ex parte
Kelley, supra.