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Justices To Study AL Seizures Of Innocent People's Property

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case questioning Alabama's civil asset forfeiture system. The dispute dates from 2019, when Halima Culley’s 23-year-old son Tayjon was arrested during a traffic stop in which police seized 21 grams of marijuana – less than an ounce -- and her 2015 Nissan Altima, reports Tayjon pleaded guilty to marijuana possession and was sentenced to two years of probation. Halima Culley’s car wasn't immediately returned. Under Alabama law, a law enforcement officer can seize property if there is probable cause to believe it is tied to criminal activity. The owner must go to civil court to seek return of the property.

Alabama law awards all proceeds of successful forfeitures to the policing agencies doing the seizing and the prosecutors handling the cases. Critics believe this creates a powerful incentive to utilize civil forfeiture as an extra revenue source. In 43 states, police and prosecutors can keep anywhere from half to all of the proceeds they take in from civil forfeiture—a clear incentive to police for profit. Mississippi, for instance, doles out 80% of of forfeitures to local police agencies. North Carolina mandates that all forfeited properties go to public schools. Supporting the Supreme Court appeal, the Rutherford Institute said it was challenging the government’s use of delaying tactics in asset forfeiture proceedings that make it difficult for individuals innocent of wrongdoing quickly to recover their property—especially cars and cash—seized by police.


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