In 2017, California instituted a new lawthat prohibits law enforcement from seizing any asset valued over $40,000 in what is known as civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture is nothing more than official theft by the state under the color of law. Basically, it allows law enforcement to seize property suspected of being used or in any way connected to suspected criminal activity. This may be a house, a car, jewelry, cash or any asset.
Civil asset forfeiture has, for example, been used to seize the home of a grandmother from which her grandson was allegedly selling drugs without her knowledge. Prior to the change in law in California (and still applicable for assets under $40,000), and in many other states, the owners of the property had to prove innocence—even when there are no charges yet filed and certainly before there is any conviction. In fact, it is estimated that in over 80 percent of all civil asset forfeiture cases in the United States the owners of the property were never even charged with the alleged crime. Yet law enforcement can and does keep the property. The hurdles owners are required to pass to challenge the forfeiture are legally complex and expensive.
As hard as it is to believe, civil asset forfeiture has been an important law enforcement “tool” – or better termed, a legal way to fund law enforcement coffers, for that is what happens to the assets seized – the “proceeds” go directly to the seizing agency. Unamerican? Perverse? Legal theft? Yes, and more. And the United States Supreme Court agrees!