Cops, backed by federal law, have been taking stuff from innocent people, and some not-so-innocent people, at alarming rates for more than a decade. The government’s “equitable sharing” civil forfeiture rules encourage federal agents and some local cops to seize goods from folks they believe are criminals. Encouragement comes in the form of language that lets agencies keep what they take. Some departments have been known to proudly advertise that their fancy new vehicles were taken from alleged bad guys.
And unlike the rest of our criminal justice system, these federal rules don’t require due process. In fact, the law says if you want your stuff back, you must sue the government to prove it wasn’t used in the commission of a crime. The burden of proof is on you.
California U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas, along with New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett, this week proposed new legislation that would change that. LA Weekly has more.