Civil asset forfeiture a major problem in Southern California

Most of us hate the idea of getting pulled over and questioned by police. Even if you didn't violate a traffic law or commit some other offense, you may be worried about receiving an erroneous citation.

But here in Southern California, a traffic ticket would be a relatively small consequence compared to what police officers can legally seize during interactions with citizens. Civil asset forfeiture laws allow law enforcement agencies to seize property from regular citizens by claiming that it is somehow tied to criminal activity. In many cases, people who have their assets seized are never even charged with a crime.

Civil asset forfeiture is a practice that many civil rights groups argue is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, because the seized assets are kept by the agencies that confiscated them, there is a perverse incentive to keep the practice going.

Asset forfeiture is a problem in most states and at the federal level. But according to a recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance, the most frequent and lucrative seizures in California are taking place in a group of relatively small cities in Los Angeles County. This includes Beverly Hills.

Like many controversial practices, civil asset forfeiture laws were created to aid in the war on drugs. But the practice has become so common and so profitable that law enforcement agencies are essentially counting on forfeiture as a source of funding. The DPA report found that some of the cities in L.A. County were explicitly violating federal law by budgeting future forfeiture revenue.

At least one state has recently passed laws largely banning civil asset forfeiture, but the practice is still widely used in California. Until or unless we pass legislation ending civil asset forfeiture, the property rights of nearly every Californian are at stake.

Source: The Drug Policy Alliance, "Above the Law: Groundbreaking New DPA Report Finds Extensive Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses by Numerous California Law Enforcement Agencies," press release, April 20, 2015

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