Capitol Alert

California bill limiting asset seizures by police headed to Jerry Brown

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, discusses a measure before the Senate on Aug. 15, 2016.
Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, discusses a measure before the Senate on Aug. 15, 2016. The Associated Press

A deal struck between California legislators and law enforcement to limit asset seizures from suspected criminals is finally headed to the governor.

The state Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved Senate Bill 443, a long-in-the-works measure from Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, that would require agencies to obtain convictions in order to keep property taken during criminal investigations under a process known as civil asset forfeiture.

“Civil liberties are important. Civil liberties should be fought for,” said Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine. “The state has no right to steal your property without charging you with a crime and giving you an opportunity to prove your innocence.”

Mitchell first pursued the police last year, but it was soundly defeated in the Assembly under intense lobbying from law enforcement groups, who defend the practice as a means to undermine illicit operations like drug trafficking rings.

Critics counter that allowing police to confiscate property from people who are never convicted of crimes amounts to an abuse of due process that effectively allows agencies to pad their operating budgets.

SB 443 was revived earlier this month after Mitchell scaled back its scope to remove most opposition; it now offers an exception for cash seizures in excess of $40,000. But in one of the biggest changes to current law, the bill covers joint state investigations with federal law enforcers, who have no threshold on civil asset forfeiture.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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