Contact: Mikayla Hellwich For Immediate Release:
Mikayla.firstname.lastname@example.org September 11, 2015
CALIFORNIA CIVIL FORFEITURE REFORM BILL DIES IN ASSEMBLY AFTER DECEPTIVE LAW ENFORCEMENT LOBBYING
State, Local Law Enforcement Profit from Violating Civil Liberties
Sacramento, CA -- Last night, the California assembly voted down 24-41 civil asset forfeiture reform bill SB 443 despite overwhelming voter support and largely due to law enforcement groups’ deceptive lobbying about losing federal funding.
Civil asset forfeiture, which enables law enforcement to seize assets and property from individuals suspected of illegal activity without having to charge them with a crime, was originally intended to cripple wealthy drug dealers and use their funds for future enforcement operations. But over the past three decades, as government funding for police has fallen, departments have used civil forfeiture to maintain their budgets. SB 443 would have required law enforcement to “seek or obtain” a conviction to make a lawful seizure. A Tulchin Research survey conducted on California residents shows an average 76% of people across racial and political lines oppose the existing civil forfeiture laws. Failure to pass SB 443 shows a significant disconnect between voters and their legislators and the power that law enforcement agencies wield in evading accountability.
“In April, The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) testified that law enforcement agencies cannot afford to give up civil asset forfeiture because the federal government has reduced funding for state and local law enforcement.” said Redondo Beach Lt. Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.), a local speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to end the War on Drugs. “How can we possibly justify incentivizing police to be invested in criminal activity?”
“Civil forfeiture has dulled the luster of constitutional policing and leveraged local law enforcement away from its core mission of public safety,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Stephen Downing (Ret.), another local LEAP representative. “This bill would have put us back on a road of true public service and helped to rebuild community trust in these tenuous times. It is sad that 41 of our politicians could not see that opportunity.”
Civil forfeiture often preys on average citizens and is widely abused by participating departments, particularly in California. In 2012, the Anaheim Police Department attempted to seize a $1.5 million office building from the owner after one of the owner’s tenants was accused of selling $37 worth of marijuana at a medical marijuana dispensary operating legally under state law. A report by the Drug Policy Alliance, “Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture in California,” found “numerous breaches of federal forfeiture rules, including budgeting future forfeiture revenue, failure to submit forfeiture expenses to third party auditors, unaccounted-for expenditures in documents submitted to the Justice Department, and failure to retain records related to asset seizures.” Overall, the report points to a vast lack of oversight for an already unethical program.
Law enforcement agencies are legally permitted to make civil forfeitures without convictions in every U.S. state except New Mexico, where it has been abolished entirely, but federal enforcement agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, still make civil forfeitures across the country.
The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act has been introduced to both houses at the congressional level and would reform civil asset forfeiture nationwide as well as abolish the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Fund, which allows the Attorney General to “pay any necessary expenses associated with forfeiture operations,” but has incentivized selective enforcement of laws based on monetary gain. Among the cosponsors of the FAIR Act are California State Representatives Tony Cardenas (D-San Fernando Valley), Sam Farr (D-Carmel), Tom McClintock (R-Roseville), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa).
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is an organization of police, judges, prosecutors, and other criminal justice professionals dedicated to ending the drug war.