MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — On Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a bill to strengthen safeguards against different types of civil forfeiture.

Under the new law, agencies are banned from seizing and forfeiting cash under $250 and vehicles valued at less than $5,000, while district attorneys can set those threshold levels even higher.

Though civil forfeiture is often defended as a way to target drug kingpins, many forfeiture cases involve relatively small amounts. A 2018 report by Alabama Appleseed and the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that half of all cash seizures involved amounts under $1,372.

“Civil forfeiture is one of the greatest threats to private property in Alabama,” said Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath in a press release. “By setting minimum dollar thresholds for currency and vehicles, Alabama becomes one of the very few states to address the problem of thousands of low-value seizures.”

Co-sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Andrew Sorrell, SB 210 will:

  • Restore the presumption of innocence by requiring the government to show that owners are not innocent before taking title to their property
  • Ban officers from forcing owners to waive or relinquish their rights to property. Similar requirements are found in four other states
  • Prohibit state and local law enforcement from transferring seized property to the federal government, except for cases involving more than $10,000 in cash, through a federal program known as “equitable sharing”

Alabama has long had some of the nation’s worst civil forfeiture laws, receiving a D- in a 2020 report by the Institute for Justice.