Legislation limiting law enforcement's ability to confiscate property from Californians not convicted of crimes failed badly in the Assembly on Thursday, a fate the bill's author forcefully attributed to a disingenuous campaign by opponents.
Asset forfeiture allows peace officers to seize cash and property from people they suspect of crimes. Proponents call it a tool to cripple large criminal enterprises by cutting off their financing, but critics argue it has been abused to pad police budgets.
Current California law requires a conviction to take assets worth less than $25,000. Senate Bill 443 would have mandated a conviction to seize property worth any amount. In cases when the state pursues a case with federal authorities and confiscates property without obtaining a conviction, as federal law allows, the state could not receive any proceeds.
“We have today the opportunity to restore a core principle of American justice, and that is that no person’s property can be taken from him or her without due process of law,” said Assemblyman David Hadley, R-Manhattan Beach.
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But Assembly members worried SB 443 would undercut investigations and rejected the bill on a lopsided 24-41 vote. Law enforcement groups vigorously opposed the bill, saying it would cost them money. They circulated alerts warning it would handicap their pursuit of “sophisticated and well-funded criminal enterprises.”
“If all of us are serious about people who are responsible for the most violent crimes – the drug trade, the organized crime – the most powerful way you can hit them where it truly hurts is law enforcement tools like these asset forfeitures,” said Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.
The bill’s author, Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, attributed the bill’s failure to “bullying advocacy tactics” by opponents.
“They have a sense of entitlement to assets that don’t belong to them,” Mitchell said, adding that law enforcement agencies were defending “a way to continue to bolster their budgets.”