A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge recently called the state's civil forfeiture law "state-sanctioned theft" and ordered a lower court to review a recent forfeiture case involving a seized gas station. This decision has serious implications as a precedent for cases involving civil asset forfeiture and, as a result, police may have a more difficult time seizing property they believe has been used in a crime.
Judge Dan Pellegrini wrote that civil forfeiture cases should be looked at as "quasi criminal," not civil, so that due process can be afforded for those whose property may be about to be seized. This means hearings or even jury trials.
Police Can Take Your Assets and Keep Them Even If You Are Found Not Guilty or Criminal Charges Are Dismissed
It is troubling that the Pennsylvania police are allowed to take your property, including your money, your car, your home or other assets, if they suspect that it was involved with or the product of criminal activity. More troubling, however, is that even if you are not found guilty of the alleged crime, they can still permanently keep the property that is rightly yours.
A recent report by the Institute for Justice notes that most state laws, including Pennsylvania's, are written to encourage police officials to seek profit rather than the detached administration of justice in regard to civil asset forfeiture.
Police and Prosecutors Add Seized Assets to Their Budgets
In states like Pennsylvania, prosecutors and police get to keep a portion of the seized civil assets for their budgets. This provides a financial incentive that has nothing to do with justice. It seems like there might be something wrong with this picture.
Just what does it mean to police for profit, and what are the implications for residents of Pennsylvania at risk of having property seized?
Let's look at the numbers. In 2010, Philadelphia took in about five times more in forfeited assets than Kings County (Brooklyn, NY) to the tune of approximately $1.2 million in assets. Meantime, Kings County has 1.5 times the population of Philadelphia. Los Angeles County, California, which has more than six times the population of Philadelphia, kept just $1.2 million in seized assets. The numbers don't seem to add up.
In federal cases, federal guidelines require that the minimum amount of a seizure be $2,000. In contrast, any amount of an asset can be seized by the Philadelphia civil forfeiture unit. In other words, Philadelphia's unit can take in a significant amount of assets through many small cases.
In Los Angeles County, 48 cases brought in about $25,000 per case. By contrast in Philadelphia, some 888 forfeiture cases involving currency brought in an average of $550 per case. Sometimes, however, the DA sued to obtain less than $100.
Property Seized in a Civil Asset Forfeiture Action? Criminal Defense Attorneys Will Fight for Your Property and Your Rights
The attorneys at Parkinson, Tarpey & Lloyd can fight your battles on both fronts - the civil and criminal. Call to arrange a free, private consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer at (215) 352-3432.
With more than 40 years of combined experience, our attorneys have successfully recovered thousands of dollars, homes and other property for our clients that was seized by police. Let us provide you with a strong, proactive defense. We represent clients throughout Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties.