Lawmakers bow to pressure, abandon effort to fix property confiscation laws

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 5.21.20 PMGovernment agencies will continue to have the power to confiscate private property in California – without a criminal conviction – after lawmakers bowed to intense lobbying pressure by agencies with a vested interest in maintaining California’s civil asset forfeiture system.

“No one should lose his or her property without being first convicted of a crime,” said Scott Bullock, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which has pushed for a nationwide reform of asset forfeiture laws. “That’s a basic tenant that most Americans are shocked to learn is being violated daily by law enforcement officials nationwide.”

On Thursday, the state Assembly rejected legislation on a 24-44 vote that would have reformed the state’s rules for seizing assets of those suspected of criminal activity.

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers urged their colleagues to defend the due process and property rights of those not yet convicted of a crime.

“We have today the opportunity to restore a core principle of American justice, 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,” said Assemblyman David Hadley, R-Torrance, who carried the bill in the lower house. “In California in the last 20 years, tens of thousands of people have had property taken and that property has not been returned – even though those individuals have neither been charged with a crime nor convicted of a crime.”

Asset Forfeiture: Controversial Tool for Targeting Criminals

Asset forfeitureUnder the country’s asset forfeiture system, law enforcement agencies have the legal authority to confiscate property of anyone suspected of a crime. Those agencies are then entitled to keep a percentage of the assets – providing a direct financial incentive for government agents to seize personal property.

Law enforcement agencies defend the practice as a vital tool for stopping organized crime and prosecuting drug dealers.

“Is there anyone who could seriously argue that that dealer should be able to still keep the dirty money derived from those illegal sales?” asked Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano, who also serves as president of the California Police Chiefs Association, in a recent Sacramento Bee op-ed piece. “How about the low-level criminals frequently paid by drug dealers to transport dirty money?”

Critics of the practice say it has been widely abused, indiscriminately punishing average citizens alongside criminal masterminds. A multi-year investigation by the Drug Policy Alliance, “Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California,” found that the average value of a state seizure in California in 2013 was $8,542.

“Unfortunately, forfeiture has become a widely abused practice,” explains Steven Greenhut, the San Diego Union-Tribune’s California columnist. “Instead of targeting drug kingpins as intended, police sometimes target average citizens who haven’t been convicted or even accused of a crime.”

California law enforcement agencies circumvent state law

Each state has its own rules governing asset forfeiture. Under federal law, any amount can be seized without a conviction. In California, assets valued at less than $25,000 are exempt from seizure. To evade California’s basic legal protections, law enforcement agencies have partnered with federal agencies, who keep a cut and pass along some of the seized assets to their local counterparts.

Senate Bill 443, authored by Senator Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, would have required a conviction for most asset forfeiture cases and blocked law enforcement agencies in California from using federal agencies as a middleman for circumventing state law.

According to a legislative analysis of the bill, “Under federal law, 20 percent of revenue from forfeited assets is retained by the federal agency involved, and 80 percent is allocated to the local agencies involved in the seizure in proportion to their involvement in the case.”

In the past decade, California law enforcement agencies have seen their share of seized assets more than triple to more than $100 million per year. California law enforcement agencies received $89.6 million in funds from the Federal Equitable Sharing Program in 2014 — on top of approximately $28 million in assets seized at the state level.

Law enforcement lobbying to maintain vested interest

Public safety groups that have a vested interest in maintaining civil asset forfeiture rules waged an intense lobbying campaign to defeat the bill. The California District Attorneys Association launched an effort targeted at individual members.

In one flyer, the group targeted Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco, claiming his support for the measure would cost his district $2.1 million in law enforcement funding.

The scare tactics included dire warnings that Sen. Mitchell’s legislation would jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in federal law enforcement funding.

“These requirements would violate federal forfeiture guidelines, and would thus end all federal equitable sharing for over 200 law enforcement agencies and task forces in California,” wrote Sean Hoffman, director of legislation for the California District Attorneys Association. “SB443 will severely reduce valuable resources obtained through drug asset forfeiture that fund investigation and prosecution, drug treatment and prevention, training, and community based organizations.”

18 comments

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  1. SkippingDog
    SkippingDog 11 September, 2015, 14:32

    Just another thinly veiled Koch operation.

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Institute_for_Justice

    Reply this comment
    • Richard Rider
      Richard Rider 11 September, 2015, 15:03

      So, just to be clear, you FAVOR asset forfeiture confiscations without criminal charges filed — let alone proved. And you support asset forfeiture (and a lawless police state) because, well, the Koch’s gave money to get the Institute of Justice going, and this group opposes such confiscations. For a kneejerk liberal like yourself, if the Koch’s are involved, you oppose the organization’s goals.

      Good to know. And hardly unexpected from a deep thinker like yourself.

      I always pictured you favoring grabbing people’s cash simply because you wanted it. It’s the hallmark of a progressive.

      Reply this comment
      • Dork
        Dork 11 September, 2015, 16:37

        I favor the actions to a certain extent, In All cases where a Public Servant has Criminal Charges Sustained at the Preliminary Hearing, ALL CIVIL ASSETS SHALL BE SEIZED as Profits of Criminal Activity.

        Reply this comment
      • eck
        eck 11 September, 2015, 19:02

        I’m with you Richard. Skippy hasn’t a clue.

        Reply this comment
      • bob
        bob 11 September, 2015, 19:04

        So, just to be clear, you FAVOR asset forfeiture confiscations without criminal charges filed — let alone proved.

        Yes he does. He is a statist just like all the other progressives who infest this blog.

        Reply this comment
    • Donkey
      Donkey 11 September, 2015, 22:09

      Skdog, the RAGWUS feeding poster boy hates the Constitution and loves the police state. What a dolt!! 🙂

      Reply this comment
  2. Dork
    Dork 11 September, 2015, 16:34

    Does anyone here think the Police are smart enough to figure out exactly why the people are distrustful and don’t give a damn about people in Magic Blue Costumes. Personally I don’t, I think they are mostly just Evil and Stupid.

    Reply this comment
  3. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 11 September, 2015, 16:44

    Sacramento need to fall into a giant sink hole and take Moonbeam and these imperialist agencies with it

    Reply this comment
  4. Dude
    Dude 11 September, 2015, 17:57

    The foxes are guarding the hen house.

    Reply this comment
  5. Alwin
    Alwin 11 September, 2015, 18:24

    Tenet, not tenant!

    Reply this comment
  6. bo
    bo 11 September, 2015, 19:01

    Don’t steal! The government hates competition.

    Reply this comment
  7. desmond
    desmond 11 September, 2015, 19:13

    I wouldn’t t want to be a cop in a poor area. Gangs will justify hits…get you before you come take what I stole through my hard work
    I understand the logic in their criminal minds, just like some cops.

    Reply this comment
  8. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 11 September, 2015, 21:56

    Clear violation of the 14ht Amendment. The problem is with our Courts/judges, which should have struck this scam DOWN when it first started.

    America= Banana Republic

    Reply this comment
    • Ted Steele Chief Justice
      Ted Steele Chief Justice 15 September, 2015, 14:58

      LOL Like the Poodle could understand what a “clear” violation of any Constitutional provision was!

      Poody—- Rush to Google now slave troll!
      Is there a valid equal protection argument here? If so would it be a strict scrutiny situation or merely a rational basis? Cite your authority little buddy!

      Hurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry !!!

      Reply this comment
  9. spurwing Plover
    spurwing Plover 12 September, 2015, 07:35

    Theres two songs that should be state songs for California MONEY THATS WHAT I WANT by BRETT STRING and MONEY,MNEYMONEY, iITS A RICHMANS WORLD by ABBA moonbeams money bin must be brming full especialy since he gets much support from Hollywood

    Reply this comment

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John Hrabe

John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about California politics for CalWatchdog.com and CalNewsroom.com.

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