California Assembly Votes to Curb “Policing for Profit” With New Criminal-Conviction Requirement

Today, Institute for Justice Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath released the following statement on the California Assembly passing SB 443, an important reform of the state’s forfeiture laws:

“Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on due process and private property rights in America today. Today’s vote means the Golden State is closer to better protecting Californians’ rights and closer to ending policing for profit.”

“Enacting SB 443 would be a sea change: It limits the transfer of seized property to the federal government for litigation under federal forfeiture law. State legislators across the country would look to California as a model to protect state sovereignty from federal overreach.”

“For too long, local and state law enforcement agencies have exploited a loophole in forfeiture law: the federal ‘equitable sharing’ program. Because the federal government does not require a criminal conviction and pays a greater percentage of forfeiture proceeds back to state and local law enforcement than happens under state law, California agencies have routinely participated in equitable sharing.”

“But SB 443 mostly closes this loophole. Going forward, police and prosecutors will receive equitable-sharing payments from the federal government on forfeited cars, real estate, boats and cash valued at under $40,000 only if the property owner is first convicted in federal court.”

“SB 443 also improves state forfeiture law, as all cash seizures under $40,000 would require a criminal conviction; previously, the threshold was $25,000. This increased protection will help ensure that Californians acquitted in criminal court will not lose their property to forfeiture in civil court.”

Sponsored by Sen. Holly Mitchell, SB 443 now heads to the Senate for concurrence. If SB 443 passes the senate and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California would join New Mexico, Nebraska and Maryland in curtailing participation in equitable sharing.

A November 2015 report by the Institute for Justice, Policing for Profit, found that between 2000 and 2013, the Justice Department paid local and state agencies in California more than $696 million in equitable-sharing proceeds. Half of all properties forfeited under equitable sharing were valued at less than $8,920.

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