Pubdate: Sun, 03 Jul 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register
Author: Grover Norquist
Note: Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform and a 
partner of the U.S. Justice Action Network.


It's a widely abused practice that was imposed on America by past 
state legislatures and the federal government. Civil asset forfeiture 
has been used to take innocent people's property for decades, and is 
perhaps better known as "legal plunder."

As such, there's nothing particularly "civil" about civil asset 
forfeiture, and a California state senator wants to do something 
about that in the Golden State.

In many states, under civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement can 
seize private property without a search warrant or an indictment, 
much less a conviction, based solely on suspicion that the property 
has been involved in, or is the ill-gotten gains of, criminal activity.

Never mind that that stands the jurisprudential concept of "innocent 
until proven guilty" on its head and that it's incompatible with the 
constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures 
set forth by the Fourth Amendment.

In California, the bar has been set higher, with state law requiring 
police and prosecutors to obtain a conviction before forfeiting 
property such as a car, boat, plane, home or cash under $25,000. 
These same protections must apply to all property and seek to require 
a uniform conviction standard for property forfeitures. The proposals 
in SB443 would also require that a conviction be obtained before 
state and local law enforcement could benefit from federal forfeiture actions.

To that end, Senate Bill 443 was resurrected - a bill that was on the 
verge of passing the California Legislature last summer - from the 
inactive file. With amendments aimed at addressing law enforcement 
objections, there are hopes to have the legislation put to a new vote 
before the end of this year's session.

In a June 2015 study for the FreedomWorks Foundation, "Civil Asset 
Forfeiture: Grading the States," author Michael Greibrok rated 
California's laws governing the procedure a "C-plus." Americans 
commonly look at California to see the direction the nation is 
heading. On civil asset forfeiture however, it is being left behind.

And while a "C" is better than the "D-plus" earned by neighboring 
Nevada, "not as bad" is hardly a satisfactory standard.

Originally devised as a tool to combat drug trafficking, pimping, 
money laundering and the like by expropriating their ill-gotten 
proceeds, civil asset forfeiture has become widely abused, for 
reasons that are hardly surprising.

It creates a perverse financial incentive - to say nothing of a 
conflict of interest - for police departments in California when they 
get to keep 65 percent of the proceeds from the sale of property 
seizures and of any cash that's seized.

One of the major goals of the proposal is to close a loophole in 
California and federal law that allows state and local law 
enforcement to keep seized proceeds and assets, even if the defendant 
is only suspected - not convicted - of a crime when the bust is the 
work of a joint task force with federal law enforcement officials.

In this so-called equitable sharing arrangement, state and local 
police and prosecutors get to keep up to 80 percent, with the 
federales getting the remaining 20 percent.

It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that according to a study by 
the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports SB443, joint state-federal 
forfeitures more than tripled between 2005 and 2013, while 
forfeitures without federal involvement remained largely constant.

Police and prosecutors' budgets should never be balanced on the backs 
of innocent property owners and our law enforcement officials should 
not be relegated to tax collectors. In fact, many states - including 
New Mexico, Florida, Maryland and Minnesota - have taken steps to 
limit the use of civil asset forfeiture. Their communities did not 
collapse and neither will California.

Quite the opposite. By respecting due process and property rights, 
trust between the police and the communities they protect will deepen.

The bill is not perfect. In fact it only addresses civil forfeiture 
related to offenses involving controlled substances. But it is still 
a step in the right direction.

In Michigan, the Michigan Association of Police Organizations threw 
its support behind last year's round of reforms.

Last June, SB443 passed the California state Senate overwhelmingly on 
a bipartisan vote of 38-1, and then cleared the state Assembly's 
Judiciary Committee 7-0 on July 14 and its Appropriations Committee 
on Aug. 27 before stalling. Hopefully, California will build on the 
progress of other states and put their innocent property owners first.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom