While the despicable scheme behind the nation’s civil asset forfeiture laws continue to swindle millions of dollars from American citizens, many of which are never charged with a crime, California lawmakers have stood up in support of castrating this program in a manner that would make it necessary to obtain a conviction before law enforcement could take over permanent possession of a person’s money or property.
On Monday, the state Assembly put its stamp of approval on a measure (Senate Bill 443) that would make it mandatory for a conviction to take place before any amount of seized cash under $40,000 could be deposited in the police piggy bank. The proposal is also designed to prevent law enforcement agencies all over the state from swopping in to maintain eternal control over houses, vehicles and other valuable property without first proving in a court of law that the owner is guilty of a crime.
Interestingly, a similar proposal was snuffed out last year in the same chamber due to state law enforcement groups applying strong-arm tactics against legislative forces. However, it is said that after extensive negotiations, both sides have been forced to give a little on the issue, causing cop opposition to back off its mission to sabotage this reform in exchange for the inclusion of specific amendments in the updated proposal.
Unlike the 2015 version, which would have required a conviction before a permanent seizure in most cases, the new bill simply works to keep the average citizen from being placed at the mercy of laws intended to cripple drug traffickers. Some of the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that most of the people under the hammer of the nation’s civil asset forfeiture laws involves cash seizures well under the $40,000 mark.
A 2014 investigational report from The Washington Post reveals that law enforcement agencies across the United States seized over $2.5 billion in cash between 2001 and 2014 without ever obtaining a search warrant. In California, this underhanded scam was used to weasel “suspects” out of about $600 million in cash between 2006 and 2013.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, which had a heavy hand in bringing this legislation to the table, Senate Bill 443 has the potential to be one of the “most far-reaching civil asset forfeiture reforms in the country,” one that stands to “drastically reduce the opportunity for police to take money from and otherwise harass poor people, immigrants, people of color, and small businesses that work primarily in cash.”
The measure must now return to the upper chamber to determine whether lawmakers there agree with scope of the latest draft. If the bill finds its way out of the Senate alive, it will then be sent to the office of Governor Jerry Brown for a signature or veto.
“By passing SB 443, lawmakers are taking aim at an appalling loophole that has let California law enforcement pad their budgets,” Lee McGrath, Legislative Counsel for the Institute for Justice, said in a statement. “Requiring a criminal conviction in most forfeiture cases is a common-sense approach to protecting the rights of the innocent, without jeopardizing public safety.”
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