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Civil Forfeiture Reform
Last year, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office brought in over $6 million in forfeitures, with the large majority of that money going to salaries and more drug busts. This perpetual motion machine, aided by the city’s stop-and-frisk policy, continues to pour money back into drug enforcement operations while not one dollar is set aside for community-based drug and crime-fighting programs.
Of course, ridding our streets of dangerous drugs and the criminals who peddle them is an important task, bravely executed by Philadelphia’s finest and supported by the District Attorney’s office. However, the anecdotal and statistical evidence of disparate treatment mounting against the practice of civil forfeiture clearly demonstrates that it is time for a change.
Together with Republican Senator Mike Folmer, I have introduced legislation which would require a criminal conviction of the legitimate property owner prior to the forfeiture of any property. I believe that this simple change in procedure is paramount in ensuring that citizen’s fundamental rights are upheld, regardless of their race or income level. For more information on this important legislation, please click here.
I’ve also joined forces with the Fix Forfeiture and the U.S. Justice Action Network, a non-partisan coalition of the nation’s leading policy think tanks and social justice organizations, to fight for reforms not only to the civil forfeiture process, but across our criminal justice system. Visit this page regularly for additional information as we continue to make Pennsylvania a more just and equitable place to live.
To learn more about Civil Asset Forfeiture in Philadelphia, please visit http://endforfeiture.com/philadelphia-forfeiture/
A 69 year old widow from Cobbs Creek was ordered to surrender her house and van after her son and another man were caught selling drugs on the property. She was not charged with a crime, but the DA said that she had knowledge of the drug dealing and “tacitly consented” to it by not putting a stop to it. She eventually gained her property back after her pro bono defense team from Ballard Spahr argued successfully to PA’s Superior Court that the forfeiture of her sole residence constituted an excessive fine prohibited under the Eighth Amendment.
A 42 year old grandmother whose home in North Philadelphia was forfeited after her 24 year old son was caught selling 8 packets of crack cocaine to an undercover officer. Though she was not present and unaware of her son’s criminal dealings, nor was she charged with a crime, she and her lawyer had to endure 23 separate hearings over two years before the DA settled and allowed her to remain in her home.
A North Philadelphia resident who was sleeping on her couch when her brother burst into her house with police in hot pursuit. He was later convicted of drug-related charges, but despite not being charged with a crime and specifically denying her brother residence in her home upon his release from prison on previous charges, she had to appear in court 17 times before a judge released her home back to her custody. Her attorney remarked that if he had charged her his normal fees, that she would have spent more than the home was worth in trying to recover it from forfeiture.