California law enforcement agencies have earned more than $50 million in federal court proceedings under a 1984 law that allows them to keep up to 90% of the assets seized in drug cases. But because of two developments, police in most cases now will be going through state courts to confiscate drug dealers’ cash, homes or other assets.
First, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced earlier this year that it would be more hesitant to “adopt” drug cases in California, a procedure necessary for the forfeiture action to be filed in federal court. The announcement was prompted by long delays caused by a flood of applications from the area into the federal office that handles the forfeiture program.
Second, the state Legislature approved changes in the state’s 1983 forfeiture law to make it more appealing to police. The new legislation:
- Increases to 76.5% from 65% the share of seized assets that can be kept by local police. The prosecuting agency that processed the claim is to receive 13.5% and the remaining 10% is to be split between the state Department of Mental Health and the Los Angeles County office of education for its Gang Risk Intervention Pilot Program.
- Enables police departments to keep seized cars and other vehicles, which previously were auctioned by the state.
- Reduces prosecutors’ burden of proof to a “preponderance of evidence.” Previously, prosecutors had to show “clear and convincing” evidence or “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the seized assets were tied to illegal drug sales.