Alabama law enforcement can take your private property if they think it was part of criminal activity. With a practice called asset forfeiture, or civil forfeiture, law enforcement officials only need probable cause as a reason to take your property. A new law hopes to make asset forfeiture in Alabama more transparent.

The new law requires agencies to enter everything they have taken into a database. It doesn’t limit law enforcement from taking your property. But they will have to explain all the details about what they seize.

What is asset forfeiture?

If law enforcement has reason to believe someone has been involved with a crime, they can take any personal property that they believe was involved with the crime. This can be anything from cash to cars to houses. Law enforcement agents only need probable cause to take any property. They aren’t necessarily charging the owner of the property with a crime.

Increased transparency

The new law hopes to make asset forfeiture more transparent for Alabama residents. Law enforcement agencies will need to describe what they took, when and where they took it and if the property connects to any arrests. They also must report how much money they keep and how they sell or use any physical property like houses or cars.

The Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center Commission will use the information collected to create an annual public report available online.

Incentive to seize assets

Law enforcement agencies can keep up to 100% of anything taken through asset forfeiture, keeping the cash and selling the property. They can use the money to buy things their budget doesn’t cover. Most agencies don’t need to report what they buy with funds taken with asset forfeiture. Since their agency can keep the money or belongings, there is an incentive for law enforcement officials to seize property.

Transparency may not be enough

Many lawmakers and advocates say the new law is not enough. Some want to replace it with criminal forfeiture. With criminal forfeiture, law enforcement can only take property if the owner of the property has a criminal charge against them.

While the new law doesn’t prevent law enforcement from using asset forfeiture, it does give you a resource to see how common it is in Alabama.