This week, the Department of Justice announce it would resume “equitable sharing” asset forfeiture. It’s a notorious program that has allowed law enforcement in California to circumvent one of the country’s strongest restrictions against taking people’s property without a conviction.

In short, California agencies simply hand off cases to the federal government where the state’s forfeiture laws ban them from keeping cash and other property without a conviction. Because the federal forfeiture programs don’t have the same restrictions, the California agencies still get to keep the property – the feds give locals up to 80% of the take.

Last fall, the legislature failed to fully pass SB443 – a bill that would have closed this massive loophole and banned California agencies from handing cases off to the feds in most situations. The prime sponsor of that bill, Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), issued the following statement about these developments this week.

I am disappointed to learn that the US Department of Justice has announced its intention to resume the practice of ‘equitable sharing.’ Equitable sharing is the reprehensible policy of inducing state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation to aid federal criminal investigations by offering those agencies the opportunity to share in the proceeds of property seized during the course of investigations but never returned to suspects and known as ‘civil asset forfeiture’.

Private property may be lost to the owners through civil asset forfeiture even when no conviction of the property owner ensues. Although such permanent seizures without judicial review have been widely denounced, including calls in the California Legislature from both sides of the aisle to stop this unjust practice, it continues.

It is shameful that justice should be perverted by financial incentive and it is imperative that the federal government fund law enforcement efforts fully and appropriately through the budget process rather than encouraging police slush funds.

I am proud to be the author of an effort in California to bring much needed reform to this practice, Senate Bill 443, which has bipartisan support and is now pending on the floor of the California State Assembly. SB 443 will ensure that a person’s property can only be permanently forfeited as once a conviction is obtained in a court of law.

A recent audit by the Washington Post shockingly found that 80% of people who had property seized under civil asset forfeiture had never even been charged with any wrong-doing, let alone convicted of a crime. Criminal investigations are disproportionately conducted in low income and minority communities, and assets seized, but never proven to have been used in a crime, are inevitably more likely to constitute a loss for those who own fewer assets than most.

I call on California’s Legislature to approve SB 443 to bring much-needed reform to California, and for Congress to put a stop to the shameful practice of policing for profit.


California residents are urged to call their State Senate and Assembly representatives – urge them to vote YES on SB443.

Find your State Senate and Assembly representatives here –

Michael Boldin

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