I am deeply disappointed that my bill to protect private property rights and the presumption that individuals are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law was defeated on the Assembly floor Thursday following heavy lobbying by law enforcement on a 24/41 vote.
SB 443 called on officers of the law to obtain a criminal conviction before a suspect’s personal property, impounded during investigation of a crime, is permanently forfeited in a process called “civil asset forfeiture.” Thanks to a current legal loophole, a California law enforcement agency aiding a federal investigation in the seizure of a suspect’s assets disposes of or benefits from a share of the proceeds – a lucrative arrangement.
I have been offended and outraged by the advocacy tactics directed at my colleagues in the Legislature by California law enforcement in its determination to continue this bounty hunting at the expense of the state’s innocent residents. Over the Legislature’s recess for the fall, I will probe next steps for passage of SB 443.
SB 443 passed out of the Senate with strong bi-partisan support, had been endorsed by the LA Times, the Orange County Register and the San Diego Union Tribune. Despite the bill’s momentum it ran into a roadblock erected by exaggerated claims of a return to drug king-pin activities of the 80’s. Assemblymembers were encouraged to believe that their commitment to protecting neighborhoods from crime and drugs would be cast into doubt if they voted for reform.
I am sorry to report that these tactics had their intended effect in making my colleagues blink. Legislators who represent neighborhoods in which violent officer/civilian encounters draw public attention will increasingly be called upon to address concerns about how community policing is being conducted. As California and the nation continue to engage in a critical dialogue about how police and the public interact – about how to effectively prevent crime while respecting human rights – this issue belongs squarely at the center of that debate.