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Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Progresses in California Assembly


June 1993

California Attorney General Dan Lungren dropped efforts to toughen the state forfeiture laws, offering instead to accept measures backed by advocates of forfeiture reform (Dale Gieringer, "Attorney General Lungren Backs Down On Asset Forfeiture Clearing Way For Reform Bill," Press Release [California NORML], 5/18/93).

Lungren, under pressure from the state Senate Judiciary Committee, dropped support for a proposal that would have extended state forfeiture law to homes and land used to grow 100 or more marijuana plants. Testimony about the killing of Malibu millionaire Donald Scott during a bungled drug raid allegedly motivated by a desire to seize his ranch may have swayed the Committee, according to observers. The attorney general acceded to strengthening the presumption of innocence by raising the standard of forfeiture law to a requirement of "clear and convincing" evidence of criminal involvement rather than a "preponderance" of evidence as under current law.

Because California's current asset forfeiture law expires at the end of 1993, failure to pass a new law would end state civil forfeiture, a substantial revenue source. Lobbying by the California chapter of the National organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) contributed to Lungren's reversal, according to California NORML's Dale Gieringer. The reform organizations were also joined by business concerns from the restaurant, hotel, real estate, and banking industries, all of which feel jeopardized by forfeiture provisions.

[Update -- The California legislature adjourned for 1993 without taking action.]