Several residents in LA County, California were detained Feb 3rd during an investigation into an illegal cockfighting ring, news sources report. The LA County Sheriff’s Department served a search warrant to the property in the 23000 block of Fort Tejon early in the morning and went on to seize 70 roosters suspected of being involved in a classic civil asset forfeiture case.
The LA Sheriff’s Department (LASD) is investigating the matter further to see if any other crimes were committed. Meanwhile, the LASD says the confiscated roosters are being documented and inspected by animal care officers. There appears to be no involvement from the federal government in this investigation.
The LASD was able to seize the roosters under California civil forfeiture law. This law gives state officers the right to seize property suspected of being used in criminal activity without necessarily charging the owners with a crime. In California, officers are required to have clear and convincing evidence for seizures of cash or cash equivalents of $25,000 or more. For other property, including real property, proof beyond a reasonable doubt or conviction of the accused is needed for seizure. Given the warrant and presence of the roosters, ample proof was present to seize property in this particular case.
On paper, California law gives its citizens strong protection from misuse of civil forfeiture by law enforcement. Officers are required to have strong proof of wrongdoing, and since they keep 66.25% of assets seized, they have a comparatively low incentive to abuse their power.
California also tries to maintain transparency by publishing reports of counties’ forfeiture income on their website. According to the California Attorney General’s year end reports, California seized an average of around $23 million worth of property per year from 2002 to 2014.
Despite California’s relatively strict civil forfeiture laws, the LASD and other state law enforcement can circumvent state law through the federal government’s equitable sharing program. This program allows law enforcement to keep 80% of assets seized if they are turned over to a federal agency. The law was intended to encourage collaboration between local and federal law enforcement; however, critics argue it provides a loophole for state officers to go around their state’s civil forfeiture laws.
While California received an average of $23 million per year from state civil forfeiture, state agencies received an average of nearly $50 million per year over roughly the same period. California’s participation in the program has been increasing over time as well. In 2000, they received around $27 million from federal sharing. By 2013, that number had tripled to $85 million. This aggressive use of federal sharing has made California one of the most active participants in the program. Out of 51 eligible bodies for participation in the federal sharing program, California ranks 50th – the second most in the country.
Despite Department of Justice policy changes announced in 2015, California’s participation in the federal sharing program is unlikely to change. While the program brings in revenue to the state, it also creates a conflict of interest between law enforcement and those they are sworn to protect. Given California’s exponential participation in the federal sharing program, civil asset forfeiture will likely continue to be a routine part of California policing going forward. For those who lose their property due to civil asset forfeiture, the only recourse is often an experienced attorney.
Nationwide Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has law enforcement taken away your property using civil asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and get assistance from a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.
Sources: 2.9.21. Roosters Seized