Innocent Motorist Fights Alabama Car Confiscation

An innocent Georgia motorist is suing the state of Alabama for taking away her car. Halima Tariffa Culley lost her 2015 Nissan Altima when police officers pulled over her son in Satsuma, Alabama, on February 17. The 23-year-old college student allegedly had a small amount of marijuana on him, and for that the car was confiscated under the state civil asset forfeiture law. Halima Culley, the car’s owner, was not charged with any crime.

“This case is not about the initial seizure, or the ultimate decision at trial in civil forfeiture actions,” Cullley’s attorney, Brian M. Clark, wrote. “It is about the fact that the state, in conjunction with the city of Satsuma, Alabama, seizes vehicles and other property and retains custody of it while the civil forfeiture action, which could take months, if not years to resolve, is pending.”

Under Alabama law, cars can be seized on the mere accusation that the property has some connection to drugs. There is no preliminary hearing held promptly to determine whether there might be sufficient probable cause to proceed with the seizure. After several months when the civil trial is scheduled, the owner has the burden of proving innocence.