Thursday, August 10, 2017


It's California Vs. Sessions On Police Seizures Of Cash, Property

By Ben Adler

Capital Public Radio
August 7, 2017

SACRAMENTO -- There’s a new battle between California and the federal government. This time, it's over a new U.S. Justice Department policy on police seizures of cash and property – and it could affect a new California law that took effect this year.

We’re talking about a practice called “civil asset forfeiture” – when police seize money or property after a raid or an arrest.

California only lets state and local law enforcement agencies keep what they seize if the owner is found guilty. But police have found a way around that rule by working with federal agencies.

A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year sought to close that loophole.

But under a recent directive from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it’s now easier for law enforcement agencies to keep what they seize without charging the owner – let alone convicting them.

So does that take precedence over the California law?

“I think the short answer is no,“ says state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who wrote the 2016 law. “I think the other short answer is, it’s a good thing we did the bill when we did!”

But Mitchell says she expects her law’s limits will be tested.

“We believe our state law will continue to govern actions taken by California state law enforcement,” she says.

So California finds itself in yet another battle with the Trump administration that’s likely headed to court.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In order to meet my college’s professional development requirements, I spent my summers working with Riverside Sheriff and Police narcotics enforcement units.

I remember one particular case of assets seizure. A 17-year-old Mexican-American youth operated a meth lab in the desert of San Bernardino County and another lab in Los Angeles County. That’s right, I said 17-year old! He owned an upscale two-story house in Corona, which is just south of Riverside.

First, in a joint operation with the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, we raided the desert lab. Then we went to his house in Corona where we sized one of his Corvettes – the other one which he was riding in at the time was a custom built one with Gold-toned wheels, over a dozen guns, the house, a big playhouse which contained a pool table and two commercial-type pinball machines, a dog kennel with Dobermans, Rottweilers and Chow Chows, and the contents of the house. Those contents included an expensive grandfather clock, hundreds of crystal figurines, a parrot., and a wad of cash.

Another group of RSD narcs went to Los Angeles to raid this young man’s meth lab there.

The property and everything within that property was seized. Since the house had no lien holder it could be seized along with its contents, all of which were inventoried before bein loaded into a moving van to be taken to the RSD storage yard. The assets from those seizures would be divided among the RSD, the SBSD, the Riverside DA’s office, and the San Bernardino DA’s office.

Back then the seizures could be made before the suspect was convicted. In the event the suspect were to be acquitted by a jury, he would have to go to a civil court to seek return of his seized assets. In court the authorities can testify about the suspects criminal activities, which the judge would take into account before making his decision.

But the most interesting aspect of this case was that the 17-year-old was on probation for a narcotics possession conviction. Since there were no money trees on the property and no pot of gold left at the end a rainbow, anyone with half a brain would have known there was something very fishy here.

We asked his probation officer if it ever occurred to him that it was rather strange that this youth, who had no discernible means of employment - other than the clandestine manufacture and distribution of meth – to own an upscale two-story house with a large swimming pool, a play house on the far side of the pool, two Corvettes, and a shitload of very expensive furnishing and knickknacks. The probation officer’s response: “Well now that you mention it …..”.

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