Press Release: Sen. Holly Mitchell SB 443 to Reduce Permanent Property Seizures by Law Enforcement Passes

August 15, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                

Contact:  Charles Stewart
August 16, 2016 
(213)745-6656 office
(310)251-4567 cell

Bill to Reduce Permanent Property Seizures by Law Enforcement Passes

Seized assets valued at less than $40,000 must be returned unless owner convicted

SACRAMENTO, CA —  Before a person’s cash, up to $40,000, seized by officers of the law in a criminal investigation can be permanently forfeited to the law agency or government, a conviction for a related crime will be required under a bill passed by California’s Assembly. Federal law allows unlimited civil asset forfeiture of property confiscated during the course of a criminal investigation without requiring conviction for an underlying crime, but SB 443 will for the first time restrict California law agencies from sharing in the proceeds after assisting in a federal case in which less than $40,000 cash is seized.

“Police shouldn’t be able to ‘sweep and keep’ your private property simply by saying they suspect a crime connection,” said State Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), author of the legislation.  In California, between 2000 and 2013, 696 million dollars’ worth of private assets were permanently seized by law enforcement through civil asset forfeiture. “This law won’t protect the drug lords that police say they’re after but will cut down on the number of folks in poor, Black and Brown neighborhoods subject to ‘confiscation without conviction’.”

California attempted to restrict civil asset forfeiture in the 90’s, but local police agencies began partnering with federal law enforcement officials in a system called “equitable sharing,” to take advantage of lax federal laws of evidence. Federal agencies typically turn 80% of the proceeds over to a cooperating local or state police agency. This has yielded 250% more in payouts to law enforcement agencies since 2000. An ACLU study found that most seized property comes from communities of color, often those which own the least assets.

In September, law enforcement entities swarmed the State Capitol, successfully lobbying against SB 443’s passage in the Assembly after it passed the Senate with little opposition and continued to garner bipartisan support and endorsements from many of the state’s news dailies as well as Black Lives Matter, California’s Libertarian Party and Grover Norquist. Senator Mitchell met with fellow legislators over their concerns and amended the bill to set a $40,000 minimum for convictionless forfeitures, after which several major law enforcement associations withdrew their official opposition.

Co-sponsored by the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Institute for Justice, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of L.A. (CHIRLA), the Assembly passed the measure on a strong bipartisan vote of 69-7-4, sending the bill back to the Senate for a final vote on the amended version before it heads to the Governor’s desk for signature.

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