Civil Asset Forfeiture

Forfeiture Reformers in California Lick Wounds, Plan Next Steps

Bill fails, but the battle's not over.


"Come out with your hands up! Holding your wallet!"
Credit: Photographerlondon |

Yesterday, California Senate Bill 443 went down in flames in the state's Assembly. The bill, sponsored by Democrat Holly Mitchell in the Senate and Republican David Hadley in the Assembly, would have reformed the state's asset forfeiture regulations to require that police and prosecutors actually convict citizens of crimes before seizing ownership of their assets to spend on themselves.

The bill originally passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate earlier in the year, but then police and prosecutors got wind of it and began a campaign of fearmongering against it, telling legislators it would threaten budgets and would cut law enforcement out of the federal asset forfeiture sharing program. The law had been stripped down so that the state would be able to continue participating in the federal program, but even that wasn't enough. It didn't even get close to passing the Assembly. California will not be following in New Mexico's footsteps, at least not this year.

To figure out what will come next, Reason contacted Lynne Lyman, the California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), and Mica Doctoroff, a legislative advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California. The two organizations were both directly involved in advising lawmakers and lobbying to get SB 433 passed. Both of them see a focus on increasing community awareness about the problems of civil asset forfeiture in order to push for reform. Doctoroff noted that an ACLU poll found that 76 percent of Californians think police shouldn't be able to seize and keep property from those who have not been convicted of a crime. It's a matter of turning those opinions into activism.

"I think yesterday's vote has raised a tremendous amount of awareness," Doctoroff said. "We are hopeful we will continue with this momentum and that voters will continue to call on their elected officials."

Lyman said DPA had originally had put together a 10-year plan to build a push for asset forfeiture reform. But there had been so much momentum elsewhere in the country for changes she thought that maybe they would win early. Now they'll have to take a closer look at their strategy.

"Basically what happened yesterday is that legislators were convinced or scared by the lies they were told," Lyman said. "We have to build a movement of people who are going to have their [Assembly] members' backs when it comes down to it and turn out and create a public momentum around it. We have not done that work yet."

Lyman noted that the Black Lives Matter movement had adopted forfeiture reform as one of its policy solutions, adding them to a collection of organizations on the left and right and everything in between. But winning leaders and opinion-makers is one thing—they still need to create a "community groundswell" to counteract the influence of law enforcement, Lyman said.

Or, they could just go around them. California has a very robust ballot initiative program, and voters have passed criminal justice reforms when given the opportunity. Voters have reduced penalties for some crimes, scaled back "three strikes" enforcement, and directed low-level drug offenders toward treatment rather than jail.

But that's a plan that would have some timing issues. While Lyman and Doctoroff were both open to the possibility of a ballot initiative, the earliest they'd bring it before the voters would be in 2018, which would be a mid-term election with a likely lower turnout. But if the polling is accurate, it's certainly an option if they aren't able to push legislation through by then.

"Across the country and here in California there is tremendous support from constituents for reform," Doctoroff said.

NEXT: Teen Boy Kissed Girl on a Dare. Now He Faces Assault Charges.

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  1. It didn’t even get close to passing the Assembly.

    Those 28 Republicans stymied the civil libertarian Democrats in the Assembly?

    1. No Democrat is a civil libertarian when a police union tells them to stop getting uppity and toe the line.

      They know their master’s voice when they hear it.

      1. It’s tow the lion. You new here?

      2. Way back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, there was this thing called the”Hatch Act” that barred public employees from lobbying. This is a perfect example of why that law was needed, then and now.

  2. If policing funding is dependent on stealing the property of innocent people, then who are the criminals?

    1. Not them . . . it’s legal.

      1. BullShit!! The 5th amendment clearly states that property shall not be taken w/o due process of law and one must be compensated when their property is taken for public use.

        1. Sarcasm . . .

    2. All government is dependent on stealing the property of innocent people…that’s how it’s always been, is now, and always will be. This civil asset forfeiture problem is just gov’t returning to its typical method of taking: with the open, naked threat of lethal force. Now we’re no different than most every other nation where the police take your stuff freely and shamelessly.

  3. The bill originally passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate earlier in the year, but then police and prosecutors got wind of it and began a campaign of fearmongering against it, telling legislators it would threaten budgets and would cut law enforcement out of the federal asset forfeiture sharing program.

    “Because our budget matters more than your rights, fuck you very much, citizen.”

    1. Is it any wonder some people think the solution is to shoot cops?

      I believe the target is misdirected. Start with the lobbyist and the union leaders, particularly the ones spreading the “war on cops” screed, then the others might get the message.

  4. Here’s an editorial in support of forfeiture:


    The guy’s most compelling argument in favor is that we don’t let bank robbers keep their stolen cash pending trial.

    1. So why do the cops get to keep their stolen cash pending trial?

    2. Then place it in escrow and release it when the person is exhonerated

    3. The author of that editorial is therefore assuming the person is guilty until proven innocent.

      There was a kid Joseph Rivers whose life savings was taken from him while he was traveling to Hollywood to become a rapper. If it were truly his cash (we can’t really know without having been there, but let’s assume he is telling the truth and that it is his), then he is being punished (deprived of the use of his cash) and then required to prove his innocence to get it back.

      This is the essence of “guilty until proven innocent.” Punished first, burden of proof of innocence is on the accused.

      So that’s what the USA has come to, has it?

      1. Unfortunately yes. Not just with Civil Forfeiture either. There are now any number of laws and regulations requiring you to show that you are not guilty, usually by requiring forms and paperwork.

        It’s not enough to be legally entitled to buy a gun, you must show that you are by filling out a form and undergoing a background check. It’s not enough that you use 18+ models to take your cheesecake photos, you must keep records to show that the model isn’t under-aged. It isn’t enough to use lead-free paint in your handmade wooden toys, you must submit them to an Officially Approved testing process (with lots of forms, of course) to show that your toys are lead-free. And so on and so forth, ad nauseum.

    4. Nobody is okay with letting alleged bank robbers keep the loot pending trial. The judicial system is more than capable of preventing that from happening using injunctions and other court orders.

      Ending civil forfeiture only means that the defendant won’t have to sue the state to get his property back after he’s found not guilty; it’ll automatically happen when the court lifts the protective order.

  5. At least the jackboot in the pic is indexing properly.

    Its amazing how many of these kinds of pics you see where the moron is posing with his finger inside the trigger guard.

    1. Its amazing how many of these kinds of pics you see where the moron is posing with his finger inside the trigger guard.

      It’s more realistic that way. A cop without his finger on the trigger would be hollywood fantasy.

  6. And yet, civil suits do not require criminal convictions.

    1. No, but they do put the burden on proof on the person demanding someone else’s property.

  7. C’MON!!! Arresting a 13yr old boy for sexual assault because he stole a kiss? This is more stupid demokkkrat idiocy. I’m glad I got all my kisses in before these morons got into office.

  8. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  9. lol, US Politics, best politics money can buy!

  10. The next step is to point out that the rise of looters-by-law ALWAYS leads to financial collapse and huge increases in cops being shot. In asset-forfeiture maps, the red areas correlate closely with those on subprime mortgage default maps, just as increasing age correlates with increasing death rates. These maps also illustrate how in an economy “willingness” (i.e. freedom) to buy or sell determines success and coercion is a driver for failure (Hoover, Nixon, Soviet, Bush). Ideally, we would seize the assets of all politicians who signed asset forfeiture laws and distribute them back to owners using Victim-Witness Units–followed by criminal liability for the destruction of our retirement and pension plans.

  11. Welcome to America: land of cowardly politicians, dumb dumb DUMB voters,…this country is freaking doomed.they can take your property because THEY think it might have come from illegal sources.? No due process, no day in court? Only in America

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