California: New Law Bans Cops from Taking Ownership of Cash Without Conviction

Photo Courtesy of United States Attorneys Office

Law enforcement all across the state of California will now have to work a little bit harder to steal from people busted for drug-related offenses.

Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed a piece of legislation into law (Senate Bill 443) that will require the state’s police agencies to secure a conviction against a suspect before taking over permanent possession of cash, cars, homes and other valuable property. The law, which was brought to the table by Senator Holly Mitchell and Assemblymember David Hadley, is designed to prevent overzealous cops from using sleazy shakedown tactics against the average drug user to generate additional revenue.

California law enforcement was previously allowed to lay claims to money and personal belongings if they had reason to believe those items were used in or obtained through criminal commerce. But the new law takes some of the ridiculousness out of the situation by forcing all civil asset forfeiture cases involving cash under $40,000 to end in a person being proven guilty of a crime—before the police have the right to keep their shit.

Statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Justice show that most of the people who have been screwed over by the nation’s civil asset forfeiture laws were caught holding well under the $40,000.

“The new law establishes some of the strongest property rights protections in the most populous state in the nation,” Theshia Naidoo, legal director of criminal justice at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “The reforms are a model not only because of the policy enacted, but also for how the legislative process should work to promote the best interests of Californians.” =

A similar measure was attempted last year, but law enforcement groups were adamantly opposed to the language, going as far as to submit a letter to members of the General Assembly begging them not to cast a favorable vote. However, after some extensive negotiations, the state’s leading police organizations finally backed off.

Last year, the Institute for Justice found that California cops used the federal civil asset forfeiture law to rake in around $696 million between 2000 and 2013—around $50 million per year.

A 2013 report from the Drug Policy Alliance shows the average cash seizure in California is roughly $5,100.

The new law, which is set to take effect at the beginning of 2017, will still allow law enforcement to keep the cash of drug dealers caught in possession of over the $40,000 limit. Its primary focus is to prevent those people in a low-income bracket from losing everything they own as a result of a minor drug offense.

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