Most Americans seem to agree that the war on drugs has been unsuccessful in its goals and has caused consequences which few could have predicted. Among these is the practice of civil asset forfeiture. In short, these laws allow law enforcement agencies to seize cash, cars, real estate and other property just by claiming that it has been tied to a crime.
Individuals who have their property seized don't need to be charged with a crime, and often aren't. Moreover, once property has been seized, it can be nearly impossible for the original owners to get it back. And because the law enforcement agencies benefit directly from the assets they seize, there is little to no incentive to curb this practice.
Advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance have long opposed civil asset forfeiture laws and have attempted to call attention to areas of the country where asset seizure is most common and profitable. Sadly, according to a recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance, many of these hotspots are located right here in California.
There may be reason for hope, as certain state legislators have made ending civil asset forfeiture a goal. Bills have been introduced with the support of groups like the DPA. Commenting on the need for legislation, the DPA State director of California noted that “Asset forfeiture inflicts the harsh punishments associated with criminal proceedings without the constitutional protections guaranteed by a trial. In practice, this means encouraging law enforcement to engage in questionable and unethical practices under the banner of the war on drugs.”
Ending civil asset forfeiture will be a fight bigger than any one person or group. But it can and must be done. In the meantime, anyone charged with drug offenses needs to ensure that their rights are protected and that they don't face these charges alone. If you have been charged with drug possession or a similar offense, please seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Source: Drug Policy Institute, "Above the Law: Groundbreaking New DPA Report Finds Extensive Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses by Numerous California Law Enforcement Agencies," press release, April 20, 2015