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

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, 2016.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

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.

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 

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