Alabama’s new general forfeiture law fights economics of crime

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)-- Until last legislative session, Alabama was one of the few states in this region without what Madison County Assistant District Attorney Jeannie Cole calls "a mechanism to take away profits of crime."

She, along with Senator Arthur Orr and a team of other advocates, fought for a bill to change that.

"Say you stole from an individual or from a store and you took merchandise and sold it, converted it into cash," she said. "If you were arrested for that offense, we couldn't take the proceeds from the criminal. Now we can."

The Alabama Comprehensive Criminal Proceeds Forfeiture Act passed last session, and it allows the state to seize more unlawful property than just what was previously included in forfeiture law: drugs, child pornography, weapons, and illegal gambling proceeds.

Now, Alabama authorities can take any instruments used to commit a felony (like cars, money counters, and computers) along with any monetary profits earned from the commission of criminal acts.

Cole says this changes the game, widening what investigators can do to crack down, while attacking crime from an economic standpoint.

"It's a different way to investigate a case by looking at what the motivation is to commit that crime. And the motivation is often money," said Cole.

The law also provides for innocent victims, so property won't be taken if someone else used it for illegal purposes without your consent.

Courts determine what happens to seized property that is not returned to an owner, including paying off court costs, dividing it between law enforcement agencies, and paying restitution to victims.

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