In the United States, it is not uncommon for those who are alleged of committing drug related crimes to face what is known as civil forfeiture. The history behind such cases, stems back to the 1980’s when America’s “War on Drugs” was at its height. In an attempt to fight drug kingpins, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) decided on a novel approach. The DOJ gave police and prosecutors the authority to confiscate the property of people suspected of having involvement in the drug trade, The Orange County Register reports. Individual states followed suit, adopting similar policies.
While seizing the assets of people believed to be involved in a drug racket may seem like common sense policy, the fact of the matter is that civil forfeiture rules disproportionately affect addicts rather than drug lords and violate the 5th Amendment of the Constitution.
“No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
People who have their property taken from them are often times not found guilty of the charges. So you might imagine, in error, that they would receive an apology and are given back their belongings. However, “forfeiture” is a civil rather than “criminal” process, which means that having one’s property returned involves going civil court. The process is both involved and costly, forcing many innocent people who fell victim to draconian civil forfeiture laws to walk away.
In an attempt to uphold the 5th Amendment, California Senate Bill 443 was proposed. If passed, it would have required police agencies to obtain a criminal conviction before seizing people’s:
As you might have guessed the bill was met with some opposition which required a compromise be made. This week, the California Assembly approved a compromise version of SB 443, according to the article. The compromise still allows for the seizure of cash amounts above $40,000 without a conviction, but one’s property cannot be taken without a conviction.
Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. Based out of Orange County, Attorney Brower has represented individuals charged with crimes in state and federal court.
Contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower online or by telephone at 714-997-4400.