Monday, January 2, 2017

California legislature closes forfeiture loophole

Tenth Amendment Center Blog | Now In Effect: California Law Reins in Asset Forfeiture, Takes on Federal Equitable Sharing Program - Mike Maharrey:

January 1, 2017 - "Today, a California law went into effect that not only bolsters restrictions on state officials from seizing property without due process, but also throws a wrench into federal efforts to do the same.

"Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) introduced Senate Bill 443 (SB443) in 2015. The new law sets additional restrictions to prevent abuses from civil asset forfeiture, a controversial practice that observers such as the Institute for Justice (IJ) have called 'legal plunder.'

"California previously had some of the strongest state-level restrictions on civil asset forfeiture, but law enforcement would often bypass the state restrictions by partnering with a federal asset forfeiture program known as 'equitable sharing'....

"Under these arrangements, state officials would simply hand over forfeiture prosecutions to the federal government and then receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds — even when state law banned or limited the practice.... Through this loophole, U.S. DOJ paid local and state agencies in California more than $696 million in equitable-sharing proceeds....

"The following language shuts the loophole in most situations:
State or local law enforcement authorities shall not refer or otherwise transfer property seized under state law to a federal agency seeking the adoption by the federal agency of the seized property.
"SB443 makes it clear that state and local law enforcement agencies won’t receive federal equitable sharing money related to the seizure of assets unless it is expressly permitted under state law or if the seizure is over $40,000:
A state or local law enforcement agency participating in a joint investigation with a federal agency shall not receive an equitable share from the federal agency of all or a portion of the forfeited property…unless a defendant is convicted in an underlying or related criminal action of an offense for which the property is subject to forfeiture…
"Boats, vehicles, and homes will still require a conviction regardless of value....

"Supported by a politically diverse group of grassroots organizations, SB443 passed in the state Senate last summer by a resounding 38-1 vote. This year, the full Assembly passed it with a 69-7 vote."

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