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Victory: Judge Orders San Diego DA to Return Life Savings to Civil Asset Forfeiture Victims

Image Credit: ij.org

In March we brought you the story of the Slatic family, who had their lives ripped apart when local San Diego law enforcement – in conjunction with the DEA – raided James Slatic’s state-legal cannabis extraction company, Mid-West Distributors. Not only did authorities confiscate all the cash they found during the raid, but they also seized the bank accounts of the entire family, wiping out the life savings of James, his wife and even their two teenage daughters.

For 15 months, the Slatic Family – along with the Institute for Justice – has battled to retrieve the money taken; money taken without any charges being filed. Last week that particular battle came to an end when a judge ordered the San Diego DA to return some $100,000+ to the family.

“It is about time,” said James Slatic when he heard the news. “We did nothing wrong. My business operated openly and legally for more than two years; we paid taxes and had a retirement program for our 35 employees. No one broke any laws but the District Attorney swooped in and took everything from me and my family, even though they had no connection to my business. Our lives were turned upside down. It felt like we had been robbed – by the police.”

“[The] money that [the] People are holding does not appear to have any evidentiary value on its own, and it cannot be declared contraband without due process,” Judge Tamila E. Ipema, of the San Diego County Superior Court, said in her ruling. “The People’s investigations have been on-going since January 2016 and there is no indication from the People that criminal charges are going to be filed in this case in the near future. The People cannot hold on to [the Slatics’] money indefinitely without having filed any charges against any of them at the present time.”

“It shouldn’t take a team of lawyers and 15 months of legal battles for an innocent family to get their money back from the government,” said Wesley Hottot, an attorney at the Institute for Justice. “This case was never about public safety; it was about policing for profit. The Slatics’ ordeal illustrates why the government should not have the power to take people’s property without charging anyone with a crime.”

Yet the practice of civil asset forfeiture continues across the U.S.; unfortunately most of those victims won’t see the outcome the Slatic family got last week. Rulings like the one from Judge Ipema seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

Due process should be more important to law enforcement officials than robbing those who should be considered innocent until proven guilty. “Protect and serve” should never be replaced with “rob and dodge.”