Civil Asset Forfeiture: The Newest Legal Threat You Have Never Heard of

A new law that is causing a buzz in the state of California is S.B. 443 (Forfeiture of Controlled Substances). The bipartisan law, authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and David Hadley (R-Torrance) failed to pass the assembly floor back in September 2015, and was recently amended in the state senate on April 6. The proposed law would require a conviction of a crime regarding controlled substances in order for police to seize one’s money and assets on the grounds it was suspected drug money. It would also prohibit state agencies from transferring these seized funds over to a federal agency and receiving an equitable share of those funds. A Tulchin poll found that nearly 80% of California voters would support such a law.

Despite bipartisan support and nearly unanimous votes at every previous juncture, law enforcement departments had deployed a variety of lobbying efforts and scare tactics back in September to defeat the bill.

What is Civil Asset Forfeiture?

All over the state, Californians, predominantly poor communities, have had their money and assets taken from police officers with no actual arrests, charges, or convictions. Civil asset forfeiture occurs when the government takes away someone’s private property without compensating them because it suspects the property was used in committing a crime or was obtained through criminal activity. California law allows police to seize money, boats, cars, and other personal property based on mere suspicions.

While California law generally requires a conviction before property is permanently forfeited to the government, police departments across the state are exploiting a loophole that allows them to keep the proceeds if they transfer the taken assets to the federal government. The federal government shares the proceeds with the local agency.

While civil asset forfeiture was originally conceived in the 1980s as a way to target and drain resources away from gangs and criminal organizations, it has primarily become a method for law enforcement, motivated by personal profit, to confiscate the savings and property of those not even charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

In one story, a San Diego Marine returning from deployment had $1,200 in rent money taken by officers at a routine traffic stop. San Diego PD claimed they thought it was drug money even though they had no reasonable suspicions to believe so. San Diego police departments have specifically received more than $10 million in proceeds from cash, cars, and property that were taken from people under federal civil asset forfeiture laws in the last two years.

What do I do if This Happens to Me?

In California, you must file an administrative forfeiture proceeding claim when the property or real estate is $25,000 or less. This must be done within 30 days of the seizure. It is recommended you contact an attorney to represent you to cover all your bases. If the property is over $25,000 we recommend you file a civil lawsuit alleging constitutional violations.   

San Diego Civil Rights and Criminal Defense Attorney

At The Law Offices of David M. Boertje, we fight for our clients beyond just trying to keep them out of jail. Sometimes, the only ‘crime’ one is accused of is being the victim of a corrupt cop. If your property has been seized by the San Diego PD, contact our law firm today.