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Police Agencies See Loss from Law Ending Asset Seizures

April 29, 2019

A new law aims to protect the property of people who have only been accused — not convicted — of crimes

Police Agencies See Loss from Law Ending Asset Seizures

For decades, it has been standard operating procedure in criminal cases (particular drug cases) for law enforcement agencies to seize property associated with crime. For example, in 2019 alone, federal law enforcement officials seized nearly $1.9 billion worth of airplanes, cash, jewelry, houses, cars and other property from people who were accused of committing crimes. This is permitted under a concept known as asset forfeiture, a process by which the government can seize the proceeds of a crime — even before a person has ben convicted.

All that changed in California thanks to a new law that is designed to protect people who have merely been accused of a crime. Now, law enforcement agencies cannot seize assets until a person is convicted of a crime — which significantly changes the landscape for police departments across the state.

According to a recent report from the Southern California News Group, California continues to contribute a large share of the total amount of assets seized by the federal government. In 2018, $437.6 million in assets was seized by federal law enforcement. Given the new law, however, just $55.2 million made its way back to California law enforcement agencies. In Los Angeles, the County Sheriff’s Department’s share of these proceeds dropped from $5.3 million to $3.7 million.

While law enforcement agencies decry this drop in funding, the reality is that asset forfeiture often was incredibly unfair, allowing the government to take property of people who had only been accused of a crime — not convicted. In some cases, no charges were even brought, and simple suspicion that property (such as cash or cars) was tied to a crime was enough to keep it.

According to a drug defense lawyer Los Angeles, CA, this is common in drug cases, where the “war on drugs” often gave police the opportunity to take items associated with what they claimed was drug trafficking. That may even include a person’s home, if they alleged that drugs were being sold from it.

A California law, SB 443, went into effect in 2017. It prevents state and local agencies from keeping any suspect’s property permanently before a conviction was in place. This has the goal of stopping the practice of “policing for profit,” where law enforcement may choose to go after particular suspects in order to seize their property. However, this law does not do anything to stop federal agencies from continuing its asset seizure practices.

While asset forfeiture is still a common practice in California, there are now some protections built in for suspects in California criminal cases. This makes the system more equitable — although not necessarily just for people suspected of committing crimes.

If you have been charged with or arrested for a crime, you will need a top-notch criminal defense attorney to represent you. The Chambers Law Firm is here to help. We will aggressively advocate for your rights, and stand by your side throughout the process. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation with a drug defense lawyer Los Angeles, CA.

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