Wednesday, June 15, 2016

S.B. 443 would rein in civil asset forfeiture abuses in California


Protect and serve. That’s the role police are supposed to play in our communities. Stealing from innocent Americans? Not so much.

Unfortunately, an unjust, racist policy called civil asset forfeiture encourages police in California to do just that – seize property and cash that is allegedly associated with a crime and keep the assets whether or not anyone is charged or convicted. 1 Those assets go into a “slush fund,” and can be used for almost anything, from armored cars and new technology to luxury vehicles and vacations for law enforcement officers.2 It sends the message to law enforcement: Need money? Just seize some assets.3

Here’s a true story of civil asset forfeiture in action: A taco truck owner is pulled over by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. When questioned, he is honest about the fact that he is carrying a large sum of money from his legal business. Officers find no evidence of a crime. The man is not arrested, or even charged with a crime. Despite the fact that he has done nothing wrong, the police seize $10,000 dollars from this man. Even with a lawyer, he is never able to navigate the legal channels effectively enough to get his assets back. This happens to thousands of Californians every year, especially to people of color and people living in poverty. California police pocketed nearly $600 million from civil asset forfeiture between 2006 and 2013. Instead of a tool to undermine drug organizations, this form of state-sanctioned robbery is employed as a routine funding source.

Tell the California Legislature: Vote yes on SB 443, to help rein in civil asset forfeiture abuse by law enforcement in California.

The civil asset forfeiture laws we know today were originally designed to take down drug "kingpins," but they have morphed into what amounts to legalized theft by the police.4

The majority of people who have their possessions stolen by law enforcement never even have charges brought against them. At the federal level, 87 percent of cases where assets are seized are civil, not criminal.5 That means that the program isn’t punishing criminals or keeping them off the street, it is simply allowing police to profit off of Americans, especially people who are living in poverty or people of color.

The man who had $10,000 stolen from him was able to hire a lawyer, but was eventually advised by his attorney to drop the case because of the expense, and because what starts as asset forfeiture has been known to morph into more serious situations when challenged – like deportation investigations of undocumented people or their relatives.6 The risk that comes with fighting law enforcement, plus the incredible expense of pursuing justice through the legal system, makes communities of color and low-income communities particularly vulnerable to civil asset forfeiture.

California made changes to limit civil asset forfeiture almost 20 years ago, but police departments have found, and are exploiting, a loophole: the federal "Equitable Sharing Program."7 The state’s heavy participation in that program brings over $50 million in profit to the state every year, making California the second highest state in the country in civil asset forfeiture profits.8 SB 443 would close those loopholes and rein in civil asset forfeiture abuse by law enforcement in California.

Tell the California Legislature: Policing for profit is unacceptable. Vote yes on SB 443. Click the link to sign the petition.

Citations are on the same page you sign the petition.

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