Civil Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Reform Activists Mobilize as California Assembly Takes Up Bill

Police chiefs, prosecutors don't want money taken away.


"True Detective" will not be winning an Emmy for subtlety.
"True Detective"

Tomorrow the Public Safety Committee of California's Assembly will consider some significant reforms to the state's civil asset forfeiture regulations. These laws determine the circumstances by which the state allows police to seize the assets and property of people who are often merely suspected of crimes and often without their convictions.

The push comes after the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) produced a report showing how cities in Southern California were using federal asset forfeiture "equitable sharing" rules to bypass state regulations restricting how much money and assets police can seize and keep. The state of California permits law enforcement agencies to keep a smaller percentage of what they seized than the federal program. So, as the DPA's research noticed, there was a huge jump in law enforcement agencies looking to turn to the federal forfeiture program as budgets were cut when the economy turned bad.

Senate Bill 443, sponsored by Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) would both require police and prosecutors to actually get a conviction before seizing somebody's stuff and would require that they follow California's state laws, meaning they would get to keep a smaller amount of the assets. The bill already passed the Senate in June by a vote of 38-1.

Now with the bill heading to the Assembly, activists are concerned about public safety group opposition. Lynne Lyman, the DPA's state director for California, noted that both the California District Attorneys Association and the California Police Chief Association are opposing the passage of the legislation.

Lyman provided a copy of a letter from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office opposing SB 443. The letter notes that requiring a criminal conviction in order to seize money would be a problem in cases where "criminals fail to file a claim for large amounts of drug money in order to avoid criminal prosecution" or in cases where they can't actually prosecute the defendant because he or she has fled.

SB 443 also takes some of the asset forfeiture proceeds to go to public defenders offices to represent those who are facing having their asset seized. The letter worries, "This will create a conflict for public defenders as they will financially benefit from forfeitures that they will now be tasked with opposing." Their recommendation is to delete the money that goes to public defenders and increase the amount of money going to prosecutors, because there's apparently no conflict of interest for prosecutors who financially benefit from forfeitures they're tasked with pursuing.

But since their June letter SB 443 has seen new proposed amendments (Note that these changes, dated July 8, do not appear to show on the state's online legislation tracker as yet). The prosecutors kind of got what they wanted with the public defenders—it no longer sets aside money specifically for public defenders. Prosecuters won't get any either. Instead, it reduces the amount of money law enforcement agencies can keep from asset forfeiture even further (40 percent) and then puts 34 percent into a newly conceptualized State Asset Forfeiture Fund. That money would then be distributed to law enforcement agencies on the basis of each jurisdiction's population.

The explanation for why this fund was created returns directly back to the DPA report on cities that engage in significant amounts of asset forfeiture, and in a roundabout fashion, the current season of True Detective on HBO. The DPA noted that the top 10 cities in California that raked in the federal asset forfeiture money were not metropolises like Los Angeles and San Francisco. Rather they were small municipalities like La Verne (population: 31,868), Irwindale, (population: 1,422) and Vernon (population: 114). Vernon is worthy of note because it is a small industrial hub in Los Angeles with a lengthy history of government corruption that is the inspiration for Vinci, the locale that is the setting for this season's uber-violent, noir series True Detective. Read more about Vernon's corrupt past here. Despite having almost no population, Vernon has brought in $1 million in federal asset forfeiture funds from 2006 to 2013. Clearly this new allocation system is intended to keep small municipalities from cashing in on asset forfeiture.

Lyman says the DPA is continuing to meet with legislators in Sacramento and trying to counter the pressure applied by the police chiefs and prosecutors. Not only are the opposing groups political contributors to legislators in both parties, they also provide a "moral pressure point," as Lyman describes it, making it intimidating for legislators to vote against them.

"[There's] the sense that law enforcement knows best, this paternalistic moral authority that we've handed over to the police," Lyman says. "Nobody takes that more seriously than elected officials. It's a stretch for them. They really have to feel strongly to go against them."

NEXT: Obama Just Commuted the Sentences of 46 Non-Violent Drug Offenders

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  1. ” both the California District Attorneys Association and the California Police Chief Association are opposing the passage of the legislation.”

    Yeah? Color me shocked.. Public. Servants. Who gives a shit what they think… Let the people of California, and nation wide see the true cost of their utopian police/security state.. by actually shelling out and paying for it..

  2. Even if this were to pass, the cops and Feds will just ignore it and continue to steal. Who’s going to stop them? Just wait and see…

    1. +Training Day

  3. Vernon is worthy of note because it is a small industrial hub in Los Angeles with a lengthy history of government corruption that is the inspiration for Vinci…

    Seems like it should be worthy of note because of any government corruption, but sadly…

    1. Just pipe down and enjoy watching Vince Vaughn’s character slide back into violence and brutality, ok? Oh and also destroy his relationship with his hot wife.

      1. Maybe he’ll end up in a relationship with Detective Bezzerides instead, who will seemingly screw anything that moves, and is smoking hot.

        1. Rachael McAdams’ character is a textbook example of someone you should stay away from. She basically has “CRAY-CRAY” tattooed on her forehead. She has more issues than your mom has STDs.

          So having Vaughn’s character end up with her could be pretty interesting.

          1. It is like you’re saying that flawless face and perfect ass are not worth a trip to the clinic, or a fear of having some crazy chick who carries many knives cut something important off. I can’t even.

            1. You seem like the kind of guy who would go for Irisa on Defiance. And you’d end up dead like everyone who does that.

          2. I’ll bet she called the dude in her intro scene “daddy” two minutes before the scene started.

  4. They wouldn’t even have asset forfeiture if all those damn fat cat Republicans and Libertarians would let the people in California raise taxes on those billionaires.


  5. Asset forfeiture reform is something only blacks and terrorists care about.

    1. Oh great, now I’m a black terrorist. Thanks a lot, JJ. Asshole.

      1. First off, what do you mean, “now”?

        Secondly, I thought this was all already clear from the photo accompanying the article.

        1. I’M NOT SICILIAN

          Close enough, though, I suppose.

          Like I look at the picture unless it’s of your mom. Wait a second…

    1. Supposed to be a response to Gojira above.

  6. “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Only a lawyer could come up with the whole idea behind asset forfeiture, that the asset itself is guilty and not the possessor, it is not you being punished but your money, therefore the legal rights you enjoy are not being impinged upon and you have no standing to fight the seizure as a punishment without a crime. Common sense tells you taking someone’s money is a punishment and that punishment absent a criminal conviction is just plain wrong – but lawyers don’t get paid the big bucks for defending common sense.

    1. Yeah, but they did it a really long time ago.

  7. my buddy’s step-aunt makes $68 /hour on the laptop . She has been without a job for nine months but last month her check was $99350 just working on the laptop for a few hours. check my source

  8. “criminals fail to file a claim for large amounts of drug money in order to avoid criminal prosecution”
    I give up, I don’t understand this. So the money would be unclaimed? Doesn’t there have to be something criminal besides the money?

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