WSJ Op-Ed: California Could Close Federal Forfeiture Loophole

California lawmakers are expected in the coming days to vote on a bill that would close an appalling loophole in forfeiture law. Through a program known as “equitable sharing,” participating state and local law enforcement agencies can receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds from a forfeited property, even if the owner was never charged with a crime and even if participation would circumvent a state’s tougher forfeiture laws.

To that end, California is considering reform legislation, as Institute for Justice Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath and I detailed in a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal:

Holly Mitchell, a California state senator, introduced S.B. 443 last year to strengthen safeguards for property owners. If enacted, the bill would prevent local and state agencies from receiving equitable-sharing funds unless a defendant is first convicted in federal court. It would also require a criminal conviction before any seized property could be forfeited under state law.

Ms. Mitchell’s bill breezed through the state Senate 38-1 last year. Unfortunately, it stalled in the Assembly. Responding to concerns by some lawmakers, new amendments would clarify that the legislation would not prevent local and state agencies from participating in joint task forces and operations with federal law-enforcement. Another amendment would waive the conviction requirement for California agencies to receive equitable-sharing funds if a defendant fails to appear in court, flees the country or dies.

Our op-ed also cites data from IJ’s wide-ranging Policing for Profit report, to demonstrate just how lucrative equitable sharing has been:

From 2000-13, California agencies received $696 million in federal forfeiture funds from the Justice Department, according to our analysis. That $49.7 million each year, on average, is more than double the $23 million they acquired through state forfeiture.

Read the whole op-ed here.

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