Pubdate: Tue, 12 Apr 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register


Well, that didn't last long. The Justice Department suspended its 
"equitable sharing" asset forfeiture program in December due to 
budget cuts, then announced at the end of March that it would be 
resuming the program.

The controversial program allows state and local police agencies to 
partner with federal law enforcement agencies to bypass stricter 
state laws limiting civil asset forfeiture and receive a larger 
portion of the assets. In California, for example, police may retain 
66.25 percent of assets seized, but by partnering with federal 
agencies they may keep 80 percent of the proceeds.

Civil asset forfeiture was designed to allow police to help punish 
lawbreakers, like drug dealers, by seizing the ill-gotten gains of 
their illegal operations. Too often, however, it has been used to 
target property of people never even charged with - much less 
convicted of - a crime.

"By offering substantial payouts to participating agencies, equitable 
sharing incentivizes law enforcement to evade state laws and pad 
their budgets," Institute for Justice attorney Darpana Sheth said in 
a statement. "Local and state law enforcement agencies should be 
adequately funded, but their budgets should not in any way depend on 
property seizures."

This is especially true in cases like the young man whose $16,000 
life savings, which he intended to put toward his dream of starting a 
music video company, was seized by U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration agents on an Amtrak train from Michigan on its way to 
Los Angeles. Or the elderly West Philadelphia couple whose home was 
seized because their son, unbeknownst to them, allegedly sold $20 of 
marijuana to an informant three times from the family's front porch.

Last year, the law enforcement lobbying machine turned a 
near-unanimous state Senate support for Los Angeles Democratic Sen. 
Holly Mitchell's Senate Bill 443, which would have closed the federal 
"equitable sharing" loophole, into a stunning 44-24 defeat in the 
Assembly. The bill will be reconsidered this year, and was 
highlighted by the American Civil Liberties Union of California 
during its Lobby Day in Sacramento on Monday.

No one should have their property seized by the government without 
being convicted of a crime. California should follow the lead of New 
Mexico and pass SB443 to prevent further abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom