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  • Isaac Safier

One thing California has in common with Texas - No Exclusionary Rule for Civil Asset Forfeiture

If the exclusionary rules applies to a case, it means the defendant or claimant can make a motion under PC 1538.5 to suppress evidence that was collected in a warrantless search that lacked probable cause.


Almost every other state accepts that constitutional protections from illegal search and seizure, and the exclusionary rule, apply in civil asset forfeiture cases. In One 1958 Plymouth Sedan, police stopped and searched a vehicle without probable cause, and found contraband untaxed alcohol in the rear and the trunk. One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Pennsylvania, 380 U.S. 693, 696 (1965). The United States Supreme Court unequivocally held that the exclusionary rule applied to civil forfeitures.


The California Supreme Court, one year before the United States Supreme Court’s decision in One 1958 Plymouth Sedan, held that the exclusionary rule applied in forfeiture matters and rejected an argument that because forfeiture action is “civil in nature” the exclusionary rule should not apply. “Whatever the label which may be attached to the proceeding, it is apparent that the purpose of the forfeiture is deterrent in nature and that there is a close identity to the aims and objectives of criminal law enforcement.” People v. Reulman, 396 P.2d 706, 708 (1964). People v. Thomas, 566 P.2d 228 (Cal. 1977)(“The exclusionary rule is also applicable to forfeiture proceedings, which, although technically classified as civil proceedings, must be considered criminal proceedings for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment.”).


Then, mysteriously, in 1998, without reference or citation to People v. Ruelman, the Fourth District of the California Court of Appeal held that the exclusionary rule did not apply in civil asset forfeiture cases. People v. $241,600 US Currency, 79 Cal.Rptr.2d 588, 594-95. The court based its holding on the fact that “the forfeiture action is an in rem civil proceeding which is not based on a provision requiring the claimant to be found guilty of a criminal offense nor imposing imprisonment as a penalty for a criminal act.” Id. The court also cited the fact that the state need only “prov[e] by a preponderance of the evidence that the innocent third party ‘know or should have known of facts which made the property subject to forfeiture.” Id. The court concluded that “[s]uch provision is not penal in nature.” Id.


48 other states appear to disagree.. except Texas. See Texas case State v. One 2004 Lincoln Navigator, 494 S.W.3d 690 (2016). California and Texas are as far apart as can be on most issues, but when it comes to forfeiture of property without adequate probably cause they find themselves in happy alignment.

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