Articles Tagged with civil asset forfeiture

Does the following scenario sound familiar?

An accused person pleads guilty to selling $225 of heroin to undercover police officers, is sentenced to one year of house arrest and five years of probation; and is also ordered to pay $1,200 in fees and fines. The accused person’s Land Rover, the car he was driving at the time of the arrest, is also seized during the arrest and forfeited in a subsequent and separate civil forfeiture action. This real-life scenario was the case that triggered a review of the State of Indiana’s civil forfeiture practice of seizing instruments of a crime by the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Unanimous Decision

The eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars excessive fines and limits the ability of the federal government to seize property. Now, this limitation also applies to state governments. In a 9 – 0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution prohibit the practice of civil forfeiture as it is currently exercised by the states.

Civil Forfeiture Actions at a Glance

Civil forfeiture is a practice by state and local governments of taking of cash, cars, houses, and other assets used to commit crimes. For decades, opponents of the practice have criticized it as a revenue producing program subject to unchecked abuse. The problem with the practice is that value of the property seized is out of proportion to the crimes involved in the charged offense.

Indiana Case

In Tyson Timbs v. Indiana, the defendant argued that the seizure of his Land Rover, an asset he purchased with the proceeds from his father’s life insurance policy, was excessive. The State of Indiana argued that the Land Rover was used to commit a crime, the sale of heroin totaling $225, and as such, was justified. The Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Timbs and ruled that the seizure of the Land Rover in this case was excessive and sent the case back to the lower court to resolve what the value of the seized item should be.

Property used during the commission of a crime will still be seized. However, an independent inquiry will be made to determine what the penalty will be.

Civil Forfeiture is an Assessed Penalty in Resolution of Criminal Cases Continue reading

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Tamila E. Ipema issued a court order that the San Diego County District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis, must return $100,000 of seized assets back to a medical marijuana businessman and his family. Over a year ago, DEA agents raided James Slatic’s business, but did not charge anyone with a crime. They used sledgehammers to break open the front door of Med-West Distribution, Slatic’s business that supplied a collective of medical pot shops with cannabis oils used for vaping as well as marijuana-laced edibles, topical creams, and other products. The agents seized all of the inventory, business records, and just over $324,000 in cash (a separate forfeiture proceeding for those funds is ongoing).

A few days after the raid, the District Attorney’s office also froze Slatic’s personal bank account, along with the accounts of his wife and two stepdaughters, alleging that the money was illegal drug profits. They took $55,000 from Slatic’s account, $34,000 from his wife’s account and more than $5,000 each from the couple’s two daughters. The money was not formally seized until months later. Dumanis has used state and federal civil asset-forfeiture rules for years to confiscate millions of dollars from drug suspects.

Lawyers for Mr. Slatic argued that that money should be returned because it was not part of Med-West’s funds. Mr. Slatic wrote in a statement: “It’s about time. We did nothing wrong. My business operated openly and legally for more than two years; we paid taxes and had a retirement program for our 35 employees.” The District Attorney’s office has argued that they do not have to return the money until 12 months after money is formally seized, not 12 months after it is actually seized.

Formal Procedures of Civil Asset Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture occurs when the government (ie. police) literally seizes someone’s property without compensating them, based on the suspicion that the property was used in connection with criminal activity. The government has to follow certain procedures before it can declare forfeited property.

Schedule I substances (drugs) can be seized by policy without any formal petition of forfeiture. See CA Health and Safety Code § 11475.  

When police seize personal property worth less than $25,00 they must give notice of formal forfeiture proceedings to all property owners. See CA Health and Safety Code § 11488.4(j). You must be given an opportunity to file a claim if you recieve this notice, which must be filed within 30 days of the received notice.

California law prohibits police from keeping seized cash and property valued at less than $40,000 in federal cases without obtaining a criminal conviction. Continue reading

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?