ACLU and Senator Joel Anderson Host Panel on Asset Forfeiture Abuse at San Diego Law School

Diverse voices call for reforms to ensure police can’t take and keep someone’s money and property without a criminal conviction

SAN DIEGO–State Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties joined several panelists today at Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s Center for Criminal Law and Policy to discuss current law allowing the government to permanently take people’s private property (called “civil asset forfeiture”) and the impacts that property forfeitures have on the civil liberties and property rights of Californians and San Diegans alike.

“Civil asset forfeiture is a major threat to our constitutional rights,” said Senator Joel Anderson. “If someone is never accused of a crime, the government should not be allowed to keep that person’s property. All we are asking for is due process. I’m proud to partner with a coalition from across the political spectrum in defense of our civil liberties.”

According to the Washington Post, since 2001 police agencies across the country have carried out 61,998 cash seizures without search warrants or indictments using a federal program known as “equitable sharing.” Those cash seizures totaled more than $2.5 billion, $1.7 billion of which was kept by state and local authorities.  The Post reports that in California, there were 9,944 seizures totaling $430.7 million, with $296 million going back to state and local law enforcement agencies.

A legislative measure was introduced in the state Legislature to protect Californians’ property rights and curtail this type of incentive-driven policing. SB 443, co-authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), Assemblymember David Hadley (R-Manhattan Beach), and Senator Anderson among others, would require that a person first be convicted of a crime before their money or property can be permanently taken by the government.

“Thousands of San Diegans have had their property permanently taken by law enforcement, even though they were never charged with a crime,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the ACLU of California’s Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Director. “And because low-income communities and communities of color are more heavily policed than others, this burden falls most heavily on those who have the fewest resources to fight the federal government to get their property back.”

In San Diego County, $275.9 million in cash, cars, and property have been permanently taken from people since 2001 despite their not having been charged with a crime, with $19.6 million going back to local law enforcement agencies. According to census data, most property seized in California comes from communities of color. 

SB 443 is currently pending on the Assembly floor. The bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, CHIRLA, Drug Policy Alliance, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Institute for Justice.   

Read more about Civil Asset Forfeiture and SB 443 here.