California Supreme Court Strikes Down Local Forfeiture Law

Finding implied preemption, the California Supreme Court struck down the City of Stockton’s ordinance providing for forfeiture of cars used in solicitation of prostitution or purchase of illegal drugs.


Preemption is different under state law differs significantly from the federal preemption doctrines you may have studied in law school.  State constitutions often vest local governments with some portion of the “police power.”  Under the California Constitution, local governments not only have the power to legislate on items not covered by state law, they also have the power to displace conflicting state pronouncements on matters of “local concern” (a term that the courts have yet to successfully define).


With that background in mind, understand that preemption in California law comes in four flavors:  the state law expressly preempts local regulation, the state law fully occupies the field and thus preempts local measures by implication, the local law duplicates the state law, or the local measure contradicts state law.  In any circumstance, however, since the local government has a constitutional grant of the police power, a crucial step in the analysis is whether the matter at issue is a matter of local or statewide concern.


In the case of the local forfeiture law, there were state laws that provided for forfeiture of vehicles used in certain drug transactions.  There was no express provision of the state law displacing local regulation.  However, the court ruled that the state law’s comprehensive scheme of regulation and punishment for purchasing, selling, and possessing illegal drugs preempted local efforts at regulation by implication.

Leave a Reply