Can the government take all of a family’s money based on suspicion that one family member committed a crime? That is exactly what happened to the Slatic family earlier this year, when the San Diego County District Attorney seized over $100,000 in personal bank accounts belonging to James Slatic, his wife Annette, and their two teenage daughters, Lily and Penny, without charging anyone with a crime.
Using civil forfeiture, the District Attorney seized nearly every penny from the Slatic family following a January 2016 raid on Med-West Distribution—the legal medical marijuana business owned by James. Police accused Med-West of operating a “clandestine” drug lab, even though the business complied with state medical marijuana laws, operated publically for two years, and paid its taxes. The police took everything from Med-West, including $324,000, and shut the business down. Then, a few days later, the District Attorney went after James’ family, seizing nearly every penny in their personal bank accounts.
The seizure of the Slatic family’s money has nothing to do with crime fighting; it has everything to do with policing for profit. In the nine months since the raid, the District Attorney has not brought criminal charges against the Slatics or anyone associated with Med-West. The District Attorney has instead left the Slatics’ money in legal limbo, refusing even to begin legal proceedings in which the Slatics could prove their innocence.
Now the Slatics have teamed up with the Institute for Justice to demand their money back. The District Attorney’s abuse of civil forfeiture takes the American principle of innocent until proven guilty and flips it on its head, treating innocent property owners like the Slatics worse than criminals. A victory in this case will not only mean the return of the Slatics’ money, it will uphold the principle that no American should lose his or her property without being convicted of a crime.