You don’t have to be convicted of a crime for law enforcement to take your money or property. You don’t even need to be charged with one.
The procedure is known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows authorities to take cash and property that they can demonstrate was used in criminal activity or was illicit profits. The latest example in Mobile County occurred April 26 on Interstate 10 in Grand Bay when deputies pulled over an 18-wheeler and seized hundreds of thousands of dollars – despite making no arrests.
The practice has drawn fierce criticism in Alabama and across the country, which some going as far as labeling it “legalized theft.”
Mobile County Sheriff Paul Burch said his agency does not seize property without substantial evidence that it is connected to criminal enterprises.
“We don’t do so lightly,” he told FOX10 News. “And we work within the laws that are provided.”
During the stop last month, Burch said the deputy – assigned to a special operations unit and specially trained to spot possible drug couriers – noticed a discrepancy in the vehicle’s Department of Transportation number.
A search did not turn up any drugs, but a K-9 dog did alert on cash inside the truck – $323,000. The Sheriff’s Office seized it as suspected drug money. Now, it is on the driver to make a claim to try to get the money back.
“He has a right to do so,” Burch said. “And there’s a process for it. But we typically don’t make those type of seizures unless, you know, there’s a strong basis to do so.”
Burch said most people do not try to get it back because if it was ill-gotten, they do not want to draw attention from law enforcement. He would not go into all of the evidence in this case but said there a joint investigation with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Border Patrol into drug smuggling.
Both federal and state law enforcement agencies routinely seize money and cash unconnected to criminal charges. FOX10 News recently highlighted a case in which Mobile police seized a vehicle – and already had sold it by the time a judge dismissed criminal charges against the driver. The civil case is set for a hearing soon in Mobile County Circuit Court.