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California Enacts Historic Civil Forfeiture Law

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Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California has signed SB 443, which protects citizens from civil asset forfeiture, a practice also known as policing for profit. The law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2017, and may pave the way for similar bills across the country.

“For years, asset forfeiture abuse has wreaked havoc on innocent people throughout the country, especially people of color, immigrants, and low-income people who cannot afford to fight the government in court,” said Mica Doctoroff with the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy, reports the ACLU. “SB 443 will not only rein in the abuse in California, but also offers a blueprint for workable solutions to other states seeking reforms. We applaud Governor Brown for signing it.”

“We are thankful to Governor Brown for signing SB 443,” said Joseph Villela, of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “In addition to providing due process to all Californians, the enactment of this bill would further restore trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.”

Under the new law, in any federal case, property or cash seized totaling under $40,000 will require an underlying conviction before state and local law enforcement can receive a share of the property. For state cases, the value threshold will also be set at $40,000 -- up from $25,000 previously.

“[W]hat is evident from their behavior is that federal, state, and local governments use assets forfeiture to generate revenue, despite their claims otherwise,” researchers Gregory Vecchi and Robert Sigler note, reports the Institute for Justice.

“By approving SB 443, California is taking aim at an appalling loophole that has let state and local law enforcement pad their budgets,” said Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice, reports the ACLU. “Requiring a criminal conviction in most forfeiture cases is a common-sense approach to protecting the rights of the innocent, without jeopardizing public safety.”

Sources: ACLU of California, Institute for Justice / Photo credit: John Chiang/Instagram

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