Civil Asset Forfeiture

California May Be Next to Pass Police Asset Forfeiture Reform

Law enforcement agencies would be blocked from bypassing state restrictions by turning to the Department of Justice.


You're gonna have to deal with your budget gaps some other way.
Credit: Photographerlondon |

In April, when we reported the results of a Drug Policy Alliance study showing significant growth in police civil asset forfeiture in several California cities, we also noted the introduction of Senate Bill 443 in the state, intended to reform the process and hopefully cut back on some abuse.

The legislation has passed one hurdle, approved by the state's Senate easily, 38-1. It's now awaiting vote in the Assembly, which is, like the Senate, dominated by Democrats. It's easy to visualize forfeiture reform passing in California, given that it has drawn bipartisan support in other states, but California is a state where unions are typically king, and law enforcement unions have been fighting these reforms every step of the way.

Perhaps that's why SB 443 is actually a little bit milder on reforms than what has come to other states, like the major reforms that New Mexico passed. In New Mexico, the legislature took the huge move of taking the financial incentive out of police asset forfeiture by forcing all seized money and assets into the state's general fund. Law enforcement agencies will no longer be able to keep any funds or property that they seize, and not even bypassing the state to attempt to use the federal asset forfeiture "Equitable Sharing Program" will work there.

SB 443 will continue to allow California law enforcement agencies to keep a portion of the money and assets they seize from police busts. But it will require agencies to comply with the state's asset forfeiture laws and forbid them from transferring the cases to the federal government. The federal government has looser rules of evidence to seize people's assets and allows the law enforcement agencies to keep a larger portion of the money than California law allows. As the Drug Policy Alliance's April report noted, several California cities saw huge increases in participation in the federal program as law enforcement agencies sought to keep this money in house, often to account for budget cuts during the past decade. California's laws allow law enforcement agencies to keep only a maximum of 65 percent of the value of what they seize. But if the agencies go through the federal system instead, they'd be allowed to keep 80 percent. SB 443 will force California law enforcement agencies to use the state system with its lower limits.

SB 443 also demands counsel be appointed for indigent defendants in asset forfeiture cases and the recovery of attorney's fees for successful challenges. These regulations are important because, while the police like to argue that these asset forfeiture cases are against drug lords or big-time criminals, they're actually often used against the downtrodden who find the bureaucratic system impossible to navigate and cannot afford a lawyer. They often end up settling for getting just a portion of their funds back in settlements with prosecutors, even if they're never charged with crimes.

Read more from Reason on asset forfeiture (and asset forfeiture reform) here.

NEXT: Did You Hear About the Sex Traffickers Abducting Grown Women From Hobby Lobby?

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  1. No new laws are going to stop the highway robbers from highway robbing. They’ll just find another way if they can’t just ignore the new restrictions.

    They’ve gotten a taste of what they can get from this outright theft. They’re not going to give it up. That’s not how violent parasites operate.

    1. “Give us the fucking money, Epi!”

    2. How can you be so cynical, Epi? In what world do laws not constrain the people who write and enforce them?

      1. “I am. . .in a world. . .of shit!”

        1. +7.62 mm

    3. I can think of some laws that might:

      (1) No asset forfeiture unless and until the defendant has been convicted of a crime, and no assets forfeited without a showing (burden of proof on the State) that the specific assets were either the results of criminal activity or directly used in criminal activity.

      (2) All forfeited assets go straight into the general fund.

      (3) Everyone involved in any violation of these requirements will be charged with felony theft.

      (4) These requirements apply to both state and federal law enforcement officers. This sets up an interesting Constitutional question: can the Supremacy Clause immunize federal employees from state criminal laws?

      1. You have a touching faith in your “laws”. You know, the laws that the power-hungry and parasitical been circumventing, twisting, and manipulating for as long as there have been “laws”.

        1. Tell you what, a society that views property as subject to full due process protections beats the hell out of one that does not. The Supreme Court endorsing this shit was a day in infamy indeed. Oh, yeah, we can steal your shit without you actually being guilty of anything.

          1. Compelling interest, bitch.

            1. Huh. I’m looking, but I can’t seem to find that in my Constitution. All I see is “nor shall any person. . .be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

              1. without due process of law;

                Perhaps you missed the recent stylings of Eric Holder who said some dudes at a conference table talking about your case is due process.

                1. Look, America, just say no.

        2. The alternative to “laws” is a lawless society.

          I don’t think we’re that far gone, and I don’t want to be.

          1. I agree. In a lawless society, heavily armed thugs could just bust into your house, take your stuff, and kill you with no repercussions whatsoever. They could murder people in the streets and nobody could stop them. They could brutalize unpopular minorities, sexually assault whoever they wanted, and generally throw their weight around to step on the rights and freedoms of anyone they didn’t like. Worst of all, they could demand a share of your stuff every year to keep you safe, them turn right around and be worse than any criminal they claim to protect you from.

            Can you even imagine living in a lawless world like that?

            1. So you’re saying…there would be no internal investigations?

              THE HORROR

              1. It’s true. In a lawless wild west like that, not only will those thugs fail to get paid vacations for assaulting and killing people, they also might not be absolved of wrongdoing because they followed procedures in the passive voice.

            2. Lapel cameras on everything would fix your hypothetical scenario.

          2. It’s funny that you think your “laws” actually have any serious effect now. The only people they generally control and restrict are the peons. We watch daily as cops and other government workers do blatantly “illegal” things and just walk away.

            It astounds me that people can see the abject failure of attempting to abstract human behavior into “laws” and then, just like a drug warrior or other control freak, call for more fucking laws when the existing laws are proven total failures.

            We just need to do it harder, right? If the right TOP MEN just write the right laws the right way this time, it’ll work, right? Right?

            1. I fail to see the failure, Epi. I mean, RC Dean is right here, right now, expressing faith in our system of government because it still has things called laws, that like…I don’t know, they do something, clearly, since they’re saving us from a lawless society.

              I FEEL SAFE

              1. Laws are magical, Nicole. They completely stop people from acting like people, and instead force them to act the way…uh…what way is the “right way” again?

                Look at drug laws. They work fantastically, right? Right?

                1. They do! They could hardly work better if they tried. They create a massive criminal underclass, as well as an even bigger gray class of people outside of the protection of the law though not yet deemed criminal, they inflate the price of goods and services people want to buy, and they create tons of demand for rent-seekers like rehabilitation counselors!

                  Oh, not to mention all that sweet cash for the prison-industrial complex.

                  Win-win-win-win…stop me when I have enough win-win-win-win-wins.

                  1. It’s almost as if, even if laws were originally intended to restrict the power of the powerful, they’ve been co-opted by the powerful to merely enhance their position and make stealing from and oppressing the non-powerful that much easier and “legal”.

                    It’s incredible. I’ve never seen that kind of thing happen before. And I’ve never seen people who instead of saying “ok, that didn’t work out, now did it”, they go “ur doin’ it WRONG” and “we just need the right TOP MEN in charge writing the ‘right’ laws” and the countless other ways of saying “this may not work but we’re scared to death to try something different, you know, that doesn’t flat out ignore human nature”.

            2. I’ll part with you slightly and just make the point that if all else is equal, it’s better if the scum police are operating a little more blatantly illegally. Then there’s at least slightly more chance that they’ll be forced to stop at some point.

    4. Well, you;d think so. But the history of this is that it goes back and forth. One system gets too corrupt to be tolerated, and the citizens threaten to do something that could make the status que seriously seasick. Then the goons back off to a tolerable level, until a new generation of goods forgets what the old one learned; that an irate citizenry is a beast to avoid.

      Look up the history of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee. It’s most instructive. Then check out the ups and downs of the LA police department.

      It goes in cycles.

  2. …but California is a state where unions are typically king, and law enforcement unions have been fighting these reforms every step of the way.

    Who is the police union going to donate to? Other Democrats?

  3. So, how come the Kennedy family is allowed to keep their wealth? It is, after all, the result of Joseph Kennedy’s illegal bootlegging during prohibition. If you and I are subject to having our ‘questionable’ assets seized by the government, then why not them? If I made a bunch of cash from cooking meth and then used that money to open a legit business, the government would swoop in and take all my ‘ill gotten gains.’ So, why does the whole Kennedy family get a pass?

    1. Something about the right men from the right families…

    2. The ex post facto prohibition is still mostly observed. Kennedy made his money before they started asset forfeiture.

      1. Then it should be retroactive. If SJWs are going to get the vapors and demand punishment of companies that once profited from slavery (when it was legal), shouldn’t they also demand that “America’s Royalty” be punished for once peddling an illegal drug? If not, what kind of message does that send to the children? The biggest problem with our laws today is that they’re rarely enforced equally. Those with connections never have to worry while the rest of us are one police encounter away from having our lives destroyed.

  4. If California calls this “reform” I’m pretty unimpressed. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

    1. But it’s a practical reality. Remember that there’s a culture which is inculcated with the belief that “no drug laws” = “Mad Max Apocalypse”. Let the reins slip a little, show that the world won’t end and repeat as needed.

    2. Eh, I’m actually surprised the law enforcement unions haven’t weakened it more.

      California’s standard for asset forfeiture is actually not bad: clear and convincing for personal property; beyond a reasonable doubt for real property.

      It just has zero restrictions on working with the feds. There was an attempt years ago to put restrictions on working with the feds in place but Gov. Davis — I don’t think there was EVER a California politician as in bed with the law enforcement unions as this boring-as-fuck fuck — vetoed it.

  5. This smells like California’s other “civil liberties” legislative flurry, like the one that restricts my right to fly a radio-controlled aircraft, but the state is wholly exempted.

  6. While we’re at it, lets look at other unfortunate financial incentives.

    Like the endless parade of fines for petty offenses.

    Let’s have all fines and penalties collected by any county or city be pooled at the state level, and returned to counties and cities based on a strict per capita basis. They can knock themselves out fining the shit out of their residents, but they’re not going to get any more for it than the city next door which does no such thing.

    1. A redistributive system for government profits. Now this is an interesting concept that would force political leaders to admit that the people putting in the greatest effort should reap the greatest reward.

    2. I’d have the fines and penalties refunded to the aggrieved party, The People, instead of our flunkies and lackeys, who already benefit from our generous employment of their otherwise unemployable selves.

  7. Anything that could pass the California senate 38-1 probably isn’t actually intended to do anything good…

  8. Sounds good until one looks at the legislative record compiled by state government in Calif. where I once lived, particularly respecting the trashing of individual rights that takes place there, yes I make particular reference to the rights of law abiding individuals re firearms. Of course, things might work out differently re Theft Under Color of Law, oops, I should have referred to Civil Asset Forfeiture, though I prefer the phrasing I used. In conclusion the following adage comes to mind re the thing. I’m from Missouri, so don’t tell me, show me.

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