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The University of Alabama School of Law, Tuscaloosa
5.5 MCLE Credit Hours, including 1 Ethics Hour
“Civil asset forfeiture” is a powerful and controversial tool used by law enforcement agencies to seize property allegedly involved in or furthering criminal activity. Each year, law enforcement officials seize millions of dollars in cash, cars, homes, and other property, regardless of the owner’s guilt in relation to the underlying crime. In the past year, civil asset forfeiture has undergone significant scrutiny as it resides at the intersection of civil, criminal, and constitutional law.
On February 20, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Timbs v. Indiana. In 2013, Tyson Timbs was arrested and ultimately convicted of selling a small amount of heroin to an undercover police officer. Timbs received a suspended six-year sentence. Additionally, the state seized his $42,000 Land Rover, despite proof that his vehicle was purchased with money he received from his father’s life insurance policy, rather than the proceeds of his “criminal enterprise.” Under Indiana law, $10,000 is the maximum fine for the offense of which Timbs was convicted. The Supreme Court of Indiana upheld the forfeiture of the vehicle under state law, holding that the U.S. Supreme Court had never explicitly incorporated the Eighth Amendment against the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court reversed, holding that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is an incorporated protection applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The Court rejected Indiana’s argument that the Excessive Fines Clause does not apply to the civil forfeiture of the assets of criminals or suspected criminals.
Crucial questions remain about the Timbs decision’s impact in the context of civil asset forfeiture. While the Court said that the Excessive Fines Clause applies to Timbs’ civil asset forfeiture case, it did not say that his case violates the Excessive Fines Clause. Nor did the case set any broad standards regarding the regulation of such forfeiture. Since the Timbs decision, civil asset forfeiture practices have come under sharp criticism, specifically in Alabama, where the practice is regularly used to fund law enforcement operations. Some organizations and lawmakers have called for reform, including the possible outright appeal of the practice.
In this Alabama Law Review Symposium, a distinguished group of legal scholars and practitioners will discuss the future of civil asset forfeiture by analyzing the history of the practice and its current use, both on a federal and state level. The Symposium will feature three panel discussions and a luncheon with keynote speaker Mr. Wesley Hottot, the Institute for Justice attorney who argued the Timbs v. Indiana case in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. The three panel discussions will cover the following topics: the history of civil asset forfeiture and its current practices, civil asset forfeiture’s impact on race and class, and the future of civil asset forfeiture in Alabama, specifically. Panelists will include esteemed law professors from around the country, practicing Department of Justice attorneys, and reform advocates.
8:30 AM – 9:00 AM | Continental Breakfast
9:00 AM – 9:15 AM | Opening Remarks
9:15 AM – 10:30 AM | Panel 1: The History of Civil Asset Forfeiture and Current Practices
Moderator: Pamela Pierson, Research Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law
• Kevin Arlyck, Associate Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center
• Brian Kelly, Associate Professor, Economics, Seattle University
• Anita Cream, Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief of the Asset Recovery Division for the Middle District of Florida
10:30 AM – 10:45 AM | Break
10:45 AM – 12:00 PM | Panel 2: Civil Asset Forfeiture’s Impact on Race and Class
Moderator: John Acevedo, Visiting Lecturer in Law, University of Alabama School of Law
• Louis Rulli, Practice Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law
• Emily Early, Senior Staff Attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center Economic Justice Project
• Nathaniel Cary, Investigative Reporter, The Greenville News
12:00 PM – 12:30 PM | Break: Lunch Service
12:30 PM – 1:45 PM | Keynote Address: Timbs v. Indiana
• Wesley Hottot, Senior Attorney, Institute for Justice
1:45 PM – 2:00 PM | Break: Coffee
2:00 PM – 3:15 PM | Panel 3: Civil Asset Forfeiture in Alabama
Moderator: Anil Mujumdar (’00), Visiting Lecturer in Law, University of Alabama School of Law
• Carla Crowder (’09), Executive Director, Alabama Appleseed
• Tom Borton, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama
• Senator Arthur Orr (’89), Alabama State Senator, District 3
3:15 PM – 3:30 PM | Concluding Remarks