Pubdate: Thu, 17 Sep 2015
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Orange County Register
Author: Sal Rodriguez


As a result of a concerted effort by law enforcement, the California 
Assembly last week voted down common-sense civil asset forfeiture reforms.

Senate Bill 443, by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, would have 
significantly reinforced the notion that property rights and 
constitutional rights still matter in this day and age. The bill, 
among other provisions, would have required a conviction before 
seizing someone's assets, barring state and local law enforcement 
agencies from receiving revenue in cases involving joint efforts with 
federal law enforcement agencies until there is a conviction.

Though the bill cleared the Senate 38-1 in June, the proposal was 
rejected by the Assembly 44-24 with 12 abstentions. "Apparently, many 
of our elected representatives do not want to uphold the due-process 
protections guaranteed to us in the Constitution," Lynne Lyman, 
California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement.

The bill did not deny law enforcement the opportunity to use asset 
forfeiture, nor did it take away any ability to tackle street gangs 
or transnational criminal organizations. Yet that's what law 
enforcement organizations like the California District Attorneys 
Association wanted legislators to think.

"California's asset forfeiture law will be changed for the worse, and 
will cripple the ability of law enforcement to forfeit assets from 
drug dealers when arrest and incarceration is an incomplete strategy 
for combating drug trafficking," the CDAA warned in a letter to Mitchell.

Such arguments were repeated on the Assembly floor by Assemblymen 
Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, and Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, a former cop.

"You would take away one of the most important tools to deal with 
those folks who are creating havoc and who are creating murders and 
other violent crimes in your own districts," warned Alejo.

Upon defeat of the bill, Marc Debbaudt, president of the Association 
of Deputy District Attorneys, declared, "Passage of the bill would 
have caused a severe public safety threat - it would have been a 
license to expand for drug cartels and narcotics trafficking on all 
levels, endangering our communities and schools."

As is often the case, law enforcement's tried-and-true method of 
stirring up fears over public safety served as cover for the real 
concern: money.

District attorneys and police chiefs reportedly made personal calls 
to legislators, warning them against the measure, and the assertion 
was widely circulated that SB443 would make California law 
enforcement ineligible to receive money from federal investigations. 
This was, at best, disingenuous and simply untrue. Waiting for a 
conviction before getting their money, however, apparently is too 
much for law enforcement.

Yet state lawmakers seemed to buy those claims after talking to their 
local district attorneys or police chiefs, including Assemblyman Don 
Wagner, R-Irvine, who took to the Assembly floor in opposition.

"We have the opportunity today to restore a core principle of 
American justice," argued Assemblyman David Hadley, R-Torrance, 
co-author of the bill. "And that is that no person's property can be 
taken from him or her without due process of law, without a trial and 
a conviction."

Unfortunately, most Assembly members and law enforcement put petty 
politics and greed before principle.

"What this really shows is that the law enforcement lobby puts their 
own organizational self-interest ahead of the public," said retired 
Redondo Beach police lieutenant Diane Goldstein, board member of Law 
Enforcement Against Prohibition. "Law enforcement is moving away from 
their mission from only enforcing the laws to making the laws."

It certainly appears that way, though Californians, fortunately, are 
no longer buying all the claims of law enforcement anymore, as shown 
by the passage of Propositions 36 and 47, three-strikes reform and 
reduced penalties for nonviolent crimes, respectively. Hopefully, 
legislators will wise up soon.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom