Pubdate: Wed, 17 Aug 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


On Monday, the state Assembly approved a bill aimed at curbing abuses 
of civil asset forfeiture, a practice by which law enforcement may 
seize a person's property, cash and other assets without first 
achieving a criminal conviction.

If approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate Bill 
443, proposed last year by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and 
Assemblyman David Hadley, R-Torrance, will require a criminal 
conviction before assets worth less than $40,000 can be seized.

Under current California law, state and local law enforcement 
agencies must secure a criminal conviction before seizing assets 
worth less than $25,000. Following this standard, California law 
enforcement agencies have seized roughly $20 million in assets in 
recent years. However, law enforcement agencies have long 
circumvented state law by participating in joint law enforcement 
activities with federal law enforcement agencies.

At the federal level, a criminal conviction isn't required for asset 
seizure, and local law enforcement agencies that partner with federal 
agencies have been eligible to keep up to 80 percent of all seized 
assets through a program known as "equitable sharing."

Over the past decade, law enforcement agencies in California have 
dramatically escalated their participation in equitable sharing. 
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, between 2006 and 2013, 
California law enforcement agencies received $600 million in revenues 
from partnering with the federal government. In contrast, seizures 
under state law yielded $140 million in revenues over the same period.

Notably, SB443 will apply to both state and federal cases, thereby 
strengthening existing state laws and finally cutting off the ability 
of California law enforcement agencies to circumvent state law in most cases.

The idea that someone's property and assets can be seized without 
being proven guilty of a crime is directly in conflict with the 
fundamental notion of the right to due process. And yet, getting this 
idea to pass in California hasn't been easy.

Last year, the state Senate quickly approved SB443, with only Sen. 
Connie Leyva, D-Chino, casting a dissenting vote. What followed was 
an aggressive campaign by the state's law enforcement lobby to stop 
the bill. In September 2015, the Assembly rejected the bill, 44-24, 
with 12 abstentions.

Fortunately, the bill was amended earlier this month in a manner that 
protects Californians while also satisfying law enforcement groups 
enough that the major organizations dropped their opposition to the 
bill. That was enough to dramatically shift the vote, and the bill 
was approved 69-7.

In the interest of protecting the due process and property rights of 
Californians, we urge final approval of SB443.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom