Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton has announced changes to the way her office will handle civil asset forfeiture, a controversial practice that allows police to confiscate property and money they believe is connected to criminal activity.
Becton said her office will no longer pursue civil asset forfeiture against people who have not been charged with a crime. She has also raised the threshold for initiating seizures from $500 to $1,000, cementing an interim policy she passed roughly 18 months ago.
Becton’s office had implemented an interim ban on civil asset forfeiture in June 2019 following the release of a Bay Area News Group investigative report that revealed from 2015 to 2018, Contra Costa police had seized $1.1 million from people suspected of committing drug-related crimes, but were not criminally charged.
Public records show the number of cases in which property was seized without criminal charges has dropped significantly since Becton reformed the practice last year. As a result of the interim policy change, money seized from people who were not charged dropped from about $71,000 to $7,800 in the first half of 2020.
“The community rightfully has tremendous concerns about the use of the civil asset forfeiture process by law enforcement,” Becton said in a press release. “I have listened to the concerns and instituted this new policy on a permanent basis. We must only use civil asset forfeiture when absolutely necessary and in conjunction with a criminal case.”
Civil asset forfeiture was created as a way to financially hamstring large-scale criminal organizations and repurpose their ill-gotten profits to benefit society. The process is different from criminal asset forfeiture, which involves the confiscation of crime-related property seized after a conviction.
California law allows cash or property to be subject to forfeiture if it is traceable to drug trafficking, as long as the property owner knew it was being used for that purpose. State law does not explicitly require criminal charges to be filed in order for police to seize assets except in certain circumstances.
Civil asset forfeiture brings in a lot of money, most of which goes to the state or local police agencies that performed the seizure. A study published this month by the Institute for Justice found that state and federal law enforcement agencies cumulatively collected at least $68.8 billion over the last 20 years. Police in California alone collected more than $440 million from 2012 to 2018 using civil asset forfeiture, according to the report.
Despite its widespread use, there isn’t a lot of evidence showing that civil asset forfeiture actually deters criminals. There was no rise in criminal activity when the state of New Mexico abolished civil asset forfeiture in 2015, for example.
For innocent property owners, getting back seized property is often a headache that requires the help of an experienced civil asset forfeiture attorney. A good lawyer can challenge the seizure in court and help you recover your rightful property in a timely manner.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your lawful property been seized using asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorneys.