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California: Closer to the End of ‘Policing for Profit’

Alice Salles Comments

California: Closer to the End of ‘Policing for Profit’

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California has just taken another step to nullify a federal rule over its unconstitutional nature.

According to the Tenth Amendment Center, the California Assembly passed a bill that would keep state officials from using civil asset forfeiture to seize private property without due process while also effectively preventing federal agents to do the same in the Golden State.

Police StopSenate Bill 443 was introduced last year, and it was a response to the growing trend against civil asset forfeiture taking over the country. Organizations like FreedomWorks and Tenth Amendment Center are some of the leaders in this area, helping state legislators have access to reform ideas that render the federal rules unenforceable.

According to the libertarian justice firm Institute for Justice, civil asset forfeiture is “legal plunder,” because the practice gives federal and state law enforcement agencies the power to take a person’s property or assets, even if the owner hasn’t been arrested or convicted of a crime.

After passing the state Senate last summer, the bill failed in the Assembly. But once Assemblyperson Chris Holden made a motion to reconsider, the bill was placed in the inactive file and then brought up for a vote in the full Assembly on August 15.

If the bill is signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, the loophole in California law that allows officers to refer to federal agents in civil asset forfeiture cases in exchange for a portion of assets seized will be gone. Equitable sharing has been the only issue with California’s civil asset forfeiture laws, which are considered to be some of the strongest in the country. But up until now, the local protections against the practice meant nothing if federal agencies were involved.

Between 2000 and 2008, federal agents doubled their equitable sharing earnings. By the end of 2008, state officials across the country had helped the federal government seize about $400 million through the program.

With SB443, state prosecutors would be prohibited from going around restrictions imposed on state officials by passing cases off to the federal government. While this is good news, the bill still isn’t perfect.

If the amount seized is above $40,000, SB443 would allow state prosecutors to refer to federal officials under the equitable sharing program. The state could also have access to a portion of the assets seized if the owner of the property is convicted in a related criminal activity.

Despite its potential shortcomings, SB443 goes a long way to roll back federal intervention in local law enforcement activities, removing the financial incentive often tied to the practice.

Will other states follow?

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