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Civil Asset Forfeiture Deal Passes California Assembly

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) looks on as the California Assembly approves her civil asset forfeiture bill Monday, Aug. 15th.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Law enforcement and civil liberties groups have coalesced behind a bill that would set new limits on public agencies that seize and sell cash and property involved in crimes.

Civil asset forfeiture is often used to fight drug trafficking. But critics say it violates civil liberties.

After Democratic Sen. Holly Mitchell’s bill fell 15 votes short of passing the Assembly last year, the two sides negotiated a deal that raises the minimum asset value for seizure without a conviction from $25,000 to $40,000.

“I was concerned about folks with small amounts of money, relatively speaking, who were losing their cash, looking for counsel who specialize in asset forfeiture, and spending more money to try to get their eight grand or less back.”

Republican Asm. Donald Wagner called that “the model of lawmaking.”

“You can find a way to protect liberty, you can find a way to keep these tools in the hands of law enforcement, and you can do it with a bill that deserves unanimous support on this floor,” Wagner said during Assembly debate Monday.

It didn’t quite get unanimous support. Democratic Asm. Jim Cooper, a former Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, argued the bill would let small-scale drug dealers off the hook.

“Those smaller dealers are sometimes the most dangerous dealers,” Cooper said.

But the measure passed overwhelmingly and now returns to the Senate for a final vote.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio