Court-Funded Historical Attractions

Written By: Laura Yetter

Member, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

In 2009, a bill introduced to the state legislature proposing alternative funding for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences (“ADFS”), resulted in a statute requiring the state’s criminal court system to fund not only the ADFS, but the American Village of Montevallo as well, through increased court fees.

As the only forensic science system in the state, the ADFS analyzes DNA evidence recovered by all of Alabama’s 452 state and local law enforcement agencies.[1] The work of the ADFS has garnered national attention, such as in 2009 when it ranked first in the nation for solving the most “cold cases” using DNA analysis.[2] In the same year, however, the department faced an impending 17% cut to its budget due the next fiscal year.[3] Before the department’s budget was cut, House bill 146 (hereinafter referred to as “bill”) was introduced to the legislature proposing to create additional revenue for the ADFS’s DNA Database Fund.[4]  The bill proposed to increase the amount of fees assessed for the DNA Database Fund in all municipal, district and circuit court criminal cases, bond forfeiture proceedings, and alias or capias warrants of arrests from $2 to $12.[5] These fees were to be collected by court clerks and remitted back to the DNA Database Fund.[6] According to the ADFS Chief of Forensic Biology and DNA, Angelo Della Manna, the revenue generated from the fees remitted to the DNA Database Fund were “essential to Alabama’s participation in the FBI National DNA Database, accreditation of the State’s four regional DNA labs, and the state’s eligibility for federal DNA grant programs.”[7] With cuts to ADFS’s budget looming six months in the distance, the bill proposing a 600% increase in DNA Database fees for criminal cases passed in the House and proceeded to the Senate Judiciary Committee.[8] As the result of a dispute between the two legislative houses concerning the Senate Judiciary Committee’s amendments to the bill, a conference committee[9] was formed in an attempt to reach a resolution.[10] A day later, after both houses accepted the conference committee’s report,[11] an agreement as to the final version of the bill was reached.[12] The enacted bill funding the DNA Database was strikingly different than the one initially introduced and passed by the House.[13] Although the $12 increase of fees assessed in all municipal, district and circuit court criminal cases, bond forfeiture proceedings, and alias or capias warrants of arrests remained the same, it is now divided between two sources: the DNA Database Fund and The Citizenship Trust.[14]

The Citizenship Trust was established by statute in 1995 for the purpose of “strengthen[ing] and renew[ing] the foundation of American liberty through citizenship education.”[15] In pursuit of this purpose, the “Citizenship Trust operates a 113-acre educational campus called the ‘American Village’ in Montevallo consisting of a dozen structures, all inspired by historical American buildings associated with the Nation’s founding principles.”[16] Appropriations to the Citizenship Fund under the DNA Database Statute were allocated with the intent to “reduce criminal conduct by promoting good citizenship education.”[17] The $12 assessment fees were to be split between the Citizenship Trust and the DNA Database Fund in the following manner:

(1) Alabama DNA Database Fund 

(a) For fiscal years 2009 and 2010, $7.

(b) For fiscal year 2011, $8.

(c) For fiscal year 2012 and thereafter, $11.

(2) Citizenship Trust

(a) For fiscal years 2009 and 2010, $5.

(b) For fiscal years 2011, $4.

(c) For fiscal years 2012 and thereafter, $1.[18]

As a result of this statute, a staggering amount is remitted back to the Citizenship Trust. In circuit and district courts, a combined total of $345,000 was remitted to the Citizenship Trust during the 2016 fiscal year.[19] The Municipal Court of Montgomery alone remitted $303,652 of increased court fees to the Citizenship Trust in the 2010 fiscal year.[20] The following fiscal year, Mobile’s Municipal Court remitted $143,056.[21] During the 2013 fiscal year, the Citizenship Trust received $22,170 from Huntsville’s Municipal Court and $52,403 from the Municipal Court in Birmingham.[22] With 279 municipal courts currently in existence[23] in the state, the amounts listed above do little to showcase the actual amount of municipal court fees disbursed to the Citizenship Trust. Today, the amount remitted is even harder to gauge as the Administrative Office of Courts (“AOC”) decided to stop requiring municipal courts to disclose disbursement amounts on annual reports submitted, opting to collect only caseload information instead.[24]

The Citizenship Trust reported $3,234,437 in contributions to the IRS for the 2014 fiscal year.[25] $1,018,923 of this amount came from government grants, but it is unclear whether this amount of revenue is generated by increased court fees.[26] Separately, the Citizenship Trust reported $515,035 in revenue gained from charging admission fees.[27] Of the board members listed, only the executive director receives compensation from the trust (and related organizations) for his efforts, the amount averaging about $200,000 a year.[28]

The Citizenship Trust is not the only non-court entity in the state to receive state funding through the disbursement of court costs and fees.[29]  During the last fiscal year, $116,627,953.54 collected in court costs and fees, from circuit and district courts alone, went to non-court entities.[30] This number accounts for 26% of all disbursements made in 2016.[31] These numbers can explain how a bill proposing an increase in court fees for the state forensic department could come to also include allocations to the American Village. Requiring Alabama residents to fund non-court entities through court costs and fees limits equal access to the court system while unduly burdening those forced to take part in it.


[1] Forensic Biology/DNA, Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, (last visited Aug. 29, 2017) http://www.adfs.alabama.gov/dna.aspx.

[2] Chris Vessell, Forensics Officials Hope to Reduce DNA Backlog, WTVM (Aug. 27, 2009), http://www.wtvm.com/story/11005071/forensics-officials-hope-to-reduce-dna-backlog.

[3] Id.

[4] History for H.B. 146, 2009 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ala. 2009) (introduced Feb. 3, 2009).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Petition for Writ of Mandamus at 5, Keddie-Hill v. Citizenship Trust, 68 So. 3d 99 (Ala. 2011) (No. 09-CV-901172) 2010 WL 1397455, at *5-6.

[8] History for H.B. 146, supra note 5 (substituted Mar. 3, 2009).

[9] See Alabama Legislation, Alabama Law Institute 197 (8th ed. 2014) (illustrating that when the House and Senate disagree on the final version of a bill, a Conference Committee is formed. Conference Committees are usually composed of three members from each house, who meet in an attempt to reach an agreement regarding the final version the bill that will be suitable to both sides).

[10] History for H.B. 146, supra note 5.

[11]  See Alabama Legislation, supra note 10 (explaining if two members from each house on the conference committee agree to a resolution, the committee issues a report. The conference report is then considered by both houses, who then vote to accept or reject the conference committee’s report).

[12] History for H.B. 146, supra note 5 (enrolled May 15 2009).

[13] Compare H.B. 146 (Ala. 2009), § 36-18-32(h) (enacted May 22, 2009) (containing new appropriations to the Citizenship Trust Fund), with H.B. 146 (Ala. 2009), § 36-18-32(h) (introduced Feb. 3, 2009) (containing only DNA Database Fund appropriations), and 2009 Ala. HB146, § 36-18-32(h) (substituted Mar. 3, 2009) (Lexis) (containing only DNA Database Fund appropriations); see also Ala. Code § 36-18-32 (West 2017) (codified version of the enacted bill).

[14] Ala. Code § 36-18-32(h) (West 2017).

[15] Ala. Code § 16-44A-31(b) (West 2017) (“The trust shall provide students with high quality educational programs . . . which enhance their understanding and appreciation of the principles of American citizenship, and knowledge of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and other essential foundations of the American Republic, and which encourage them to serve and lead their communities, state, and nation as active, responsible, informed, and law abiding citizens.”).

[16] Brief of Appellants and Cross-Appellants at 10, Citizenship Trust v. Keddie-Hill, 68 So. 3d 99 (Ala. 2010) (No. 1090545), 2010 WL 2662016, at *17.  The Citizenship Trust also develops off-campus educational programs such as “American Village Kids for Character” and “Securing the Blessings of Liberty.”

[17] Ala. Code § 36-18-32.1 (West 2017). One-half of the appropriations remitted to the Citizenship Trust were to be distributed to the David Matthews Center for Civic Life, also located on the American Village campus.

[18] Ala. Code § 36-18-32 (West 2017).

[19] Statewide Transmittal for Fiscal Year 2016, at 1.

[20] 2010 Municipal Court Annual Survey, Montgomery Municipal Court, Administrative Office of the Courts. In the following years the Montgomery Municipal Court remitted: $247, 690 (FY 2012) and $105,303.70 (FY 2013) to the Citizenship Trust. 2012 Municipal Court Annual Surveys, Montgomery Municipal Court, Administrative Office of the Courts; 2013 Municipal Court Annual Surveys, Montgomery Municipal Court, Administrative Office of the Courts .

[21] 2011 Municipal Court Annual Survey, City of Mobile, Administrative Office of the Courts (2011).

[22] 2013 Municipal Court Annual Survey, Huntsville Municipal Court, Administrative Office of the Courts, (2013); 2013 Municipal Court Annual Survey, Birmingham Municipal Court, Administrative Office of the Courts (2013).

[23] Email from Joy Evans, Legal Division, Administrative Office of Courts to Author (Aug. 31, 2017) (on file with author).

[24] Telephone Inquiry with Joy Evans, Legal Division, Administrative Office of Courts (Aug. 17, 2017).

[25] I.R.S., Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, The Citizenship Trust at 9 (2014).

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id. at 8.

[29] Statewide Transmittal, supra note 21, at 2.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

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