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The Burden of Forfeiture: The Case of Jeremy S. Mitchem

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In a case rising out of Madison County, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently presided over an appeal that clarifies the State’s burden when seizing or forfeiting property in possible connection with a crime. In this case, Jeremy S. Mitchem v. State of Alabama, solidifying the State’s evidentiary requirements and burden of proof.

Police saw Mitchem driving with expired tags, but while attempting to pull him over in a routine traffic stop, Mitchem continued driving, leading the police on a 26-mile-high speed police chase. Eventually, Mitchem crashed into a police cruiser, and police recovered a large quantity of drugs from Mitchem. After this discovery, Mitchem consented to a search of his hotel room. During the search, police also seized $6,646, which Mitchem claimed was a gift from his father and completely unrelated to the drugs.

Following the search and seizure, the district attorney brought an action on the State’s behalf, asserting that the money taken from Mitchem’s hotel room should be forfeited to the state under §20-2-93.1 of the Alabama Code. This section governs forfeitures and seizures and extends to money connected to controlled substances. At trial, the trial court ruled that the State had “established a prima facie case as to certain property sought to be forfeited” and granted the forfeiture. Mitchem filed a post judgment motion, which was denied, leading to this appeal.

Mitchem’s argument on appeal was based on the notion that the State had not, in fact, established a prima facie case warranting the forfeiture, meaning the trial court’s judgment was an error. To support his argument, Mitchem cited previous Alabama case law, which clarified that “[t]he mere presence of money is insufficient to justify the forfeiture of the money.”

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reverse the trial court’s judgement, finding in favor of Mitchem’s argument. Mitchem had testified to a source of the money unrelated to the drugs, that it was a gift from his father to purchase a vehicle, and the State had not offered anything to contradict that testimony. With a lack of evidence tying the money to the crime, the State could not use the presence of the money itself as justification for the forfeiture.

Jeremy S. Mitchem v. State of Alabama clarifies the evidentiary standard for forfeiture of property. Although the State has broad powers in the context of criminal investigations, the State’s power is not limitless. In the interest of fairness, criminal defendants are entitled to certain rights, putting the burden of proof on the State to justify any criminal charges or forfeitures. This ruling further strengthens this interplay between the rights of citizens and State power.

If you have a Federal Criminal case, a State Criminal case, a Municipal Case or a Family Law case, contact Joe Ingram or Ingram Law LLC at 205-335-2640. Get Relief Get Results.

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