By Kathy Chouteau
Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton has announced the formalization of a new policy for civil asset forfeiture cases within the DA’s Office. The move now makes an interim policy instituted in June 2019 permanent and applicable to the whole county.
Civil asset forfeiture cases are a civil procedure for law enforcement to seize cash and other property from suspects alleged to have connections to drug trafficking and sales.
According to the DA’s Office, the formalized policy encompasses a new threshold for cases, in that the amount seized must total at minimum $1,000 for her office to consider utilizing the civil asset forfeiture process. Under prior administrations, the amount seized could be as low as $500.
Also as part of the new policy, seizing law enforcement agencies must serve a Notice of Non-Judicial Forfeiture Proceedings and a Claim Opposing Forfeiture on people who have, or may have, an interest in the seized property. For the first-time, this notice must be translated into multiple languages, including Spanish and Mandarin, per the DA’s Office.
Civil asset forfeiture proceedings will be accompanied by criminal cases, which will align the DA’s Office charging standards to mirror all criminal cases, according to her office. Exceptions to the policy outlined by the DA’s Office include if the property is abandoned or unclaimed, then it wouldn’t apply; and where the property subject to forfeiture is claimed by a third party who doesn’t seem to own it or have an interest in it.
“The community rightfully has tremendous concerns about the use of the civil asset forfeiture process by law enforcement. I have listened to the concerns and instituted this new policy on a permanent basis. We must only use civil asset forfeiture when absolutely necessary and in conjunction with a criminal case,” stated Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton.