June 17, 2016
Senator Holly Mitchell Wallis Annenberg Building 700 State Dr., Suite 113 Los Angeles CA 90037 By Fax: (213) 745-6722 (Principal author of SB 443)
Senator Isadore Hall III San Pedro District Office 222 West 6th Street, Suite 320 San Pedro, CA 90731 By Fax: (310) 514-8578
Assembly Member David Hadley 23211 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 200A Torrance, CA 90505 By Fax: (310) 375-8245 (Co-author of SB 443)
Assembly Member Mike Gipson 879 W.190th Street Suite #920 Gardena, CA 90248 By Fax: (310)324-6485
SB 443 – SUPPORT (with suggested amendments)
Honorable State Legislators:
For those of you who know me personally, you are undoubtedly aware that when it comes to criminal investigations I am a switch hitter: sometimes I do prosecution work and sometimes I do defense. I support SB 443 in principle based upon my background, training, education and experience and I also suggest the following amendments.
The practical way that prosecutors deal with cash seized in connection with criminal investigation is inextricably linked with their life experience. All too frequently, their only experience with the Barrio and the Ghetto is driving to a courthouse on a freeway from the suburb they live in. It therefore does not occur to them in the first place that Black and Brown communities have long suffered from economic red-lining and that banks are often few and far between, forcing the average person to be more dependent on cash transactions and check cashing institutions whether or not they are involved in crime.
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in zip code 91331. Banks gradually abandoned the community; at one time a bank merger raised the spectre that two of the last three banks in the area might move.
If you live near Ventura Blvd some communities will have multiple banks on virtually every block; likewise with Wilshire Blvd on the Westside or Hawthorne Blvd in the South Bay. Deputy District Attorneys or Deputy City Prosecutors who grew up in those hoods, have never lived in an area devoid of banks, and who have no friends living in such communities cannot actually conceive of why somebody would keep $1,500.00 hidden in her clothing drawer for any legal reason. I am not describing a hypothetical: I am describing what the late Valerie Monroe and I had to put up with on the all too typical case of a spouse of an accused drug dealer who tried desperately to get her life savings back when it had been seized by the police.
Valerie Monroe was not just an attorney. She had served as Chief Deputy Public Defender of the Juvenile Justice Center before going into private practice. She served as Southern California Legal Redress Chair for the NAACP State Conference under Presidents Norm Bullock and Jose De Sosa’s administrations. Valerie and I co-authored the California Three Strikes Project initiative to roll back that law to serious and violent felonies only in 2000, the first initiative effort to reform the law.
A white DDA, who had the effective power of god, i.e. the power to say no to our request for the spouse of the defendant, actually refused to give the woman back her money because she could not believe that anybody would not keep their money in a bank. She also did not believe our protestations that there were no banks in the community. None. Nada. Whatever our client’s purported transgressions (his real transgression was to run afoul from the Compton Police Department narcotics squad’s control over the cocaine trade; they concentrated on putting their dealers competitors out of business), his wife was a clerk at a Boys Market making union wages and trying to raise her children. The DDA also could not conceive of a Black family where one person is law abiding and another family member is not.
These attitudes are not exclusive to white prosecutors. It has traditionally been easier for “oreos” or “coconuts” to get hired into occupations that were previously reserved for white people. Thus, while H. Rap Brown warned in the 60s that “Justice in America means ‘Just Us’ White folk,” there may persist in institutions an attitude of “Just Us who think like White folk” because we grew up in white neighborhoods, went off to previously segregated prep schools and colleges and had better prospects of being the first minorities hired.
Thus, potential amendments to existing forfeiture laws should provide guidance for the due diligence that goes into prosecutorial decision making, e.g.:
When a law enforcement agency contends that the amount of cash seized is consistent with proceeds from drug dealing, they must document its consistency with other specific cases subject to disclosure and discovery and cannot simply rely upon a purported “expert opinion” of a narcotics officer;
When a law enforcement agency contends that the amount of cash seized would or should have been deposited in a financial institution, it must demonstrate that (a) those who claim to own the money are “bankable,” (i.e. that their credit history would not preclude them from even having an account under normal and customary banking regulations), (b) that there are sufficient banking resources available in the community, and (c) that they have conducted a reasonable inquiry from impartial sources that attest that any particular ethnic group does not have a cultural bias against using American banking institutions (I know and raise this latter issue because I personally worked undercover for 11 months amongst a work force that was overwhelmingly composed of Mexican nationals and other immigrants);
Any person offering “expert” opinions on these matters must meet Daubert vs Merrill Dow 509 U.S. 579 113 S. Ct. 2786; 125 L. Ed. 2D 469 (1993) standards [as opposed to simply Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923) standards] and must have at least a B.A. and have achieved a passing grade in either statistics or logic or preferably both at a college level.
Thanking your for your prompt attention, I remain,
Respectfully Yours, Jan B. Tucker