What do large amounts of cash have to do with speeding or driving with expired tags? Nothing. But too many Alabamans find themselves pulled over for minor offenses like these only for the police to ask if they have large amounts of cash in the car. When these people say “yes,” the police take the cash, claiming it would be used to buy drugs or commit some other crime.
If you don’t think this seems right, you’re not alone. Alabama police have taken millions of dollars in cash and other assets from thousands of people, many of whom weren’t even charged with a crime. But the state’s shady practices may now be coming under fire. A federal lawsuit claims the state’s asset forfeiture practices are unconstitutional and has named the Attorney General as the defendant.
Your protections from asset forfeiture
Alabamans have had a notoriously difficult time defending themselves from asset forfeiture, but there are some historically successful defenses based on your constitutional rights:
- Proportionality: If the police seized assets that were “grossly disproportionate” to the standard punishment for the suspected crime, you may have a defense based on the Eighth Amendment.
- Illegal search and seizure: An attorney may be able to argue that the police conducted an illegal search and seizure—in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.
The lawsuit against the state argues that the current asset forfeiture system has consistently violated these rights, as well the right to due process granted by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Good signs for future changes
Shady asset forfeiture practices have gained national attention in the past several years, and the Supreme Court singled out Eighth Amendment abuses in a recent ruling against the State of Indiana. These developments may lead to changes down the road, but if you have had your assets seized, those changes won’t likely come quick enough to help you. You have a limited amount of time to respond to most seizures, so you will want to talk with an attorney to start building your defense.