Skip to comments.Institute for Justice Dismantles Philadelphia Forfeiture Machine
Posted on 12/01/2018 9:16:10 AM PST by marktwain
PHILADELPHIAThe Institute for Justice (IJ) today announced a major settlement with the city of Philadelphia, ending the citys draconian civil forfeiture machine. In documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania today, city officials agreed to a set of reforms that will end the perverse financial incentives under which law enforcement keeps and uses forfeiture revenue, fundamentally reform procedures for seizing and forfeiting property, and establish a $3 million fund to compensate innocent people whose property was wrongly confiscated. These sweeping reforms, if approved by the Court, are the result of the Institute for Justices class-action lawsuit that it has litigated over the past four years.
Civil forfeiturewhere the government can seize and sell your property without convicting or even charging you with a crimeis one of the greatest threats to property rights today. With civil forfeiture, the government sues the property itself under the fiction that cash, cars or even homes can be guilty, resulting in bizarre case names like Commonwealth v. 2000 Buick. And because these cases are civil, innocent property owners are denied rights guaranteed to criminal defendants, like the right to an attorney.
For decades, Philadelphias system was rigged against property owners. Until IJ brought suit, Philadelphia routinely threw property owners out of their homes without notice. It forced owners to navigate the notorious Courtroom 478, where so-called hearings were run entirely by prosecutors, without any judges or court-appointed lawyers to defend property owners. Again and again, prosecutors demanded that property owners appear in court, sometimes ten times or more. Missing even a single hearing meant that prosecutors could permanently take an owners property, sell it and use the proceeds for any law-enforcement purpose they wished. More than 35 percent of proceeds went to salaries, including the salaries of the very officials seizing and forfeiting property, thus creating a perverse incentive to abuse this system. Todays landmark settlement brings all of that to an end.
For too long, Philadelphia treated its citizens like ATMs, ensnaring thousands of people in a system designed to strip people of their property and their rights, said Darpana Sheth, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice and director of its Initiative to End Forfeiture Abuse. No more. Todays groundbreaking agreement will end years of abuse and create a fund to compensate innocent owners.
For the clients named in the lawsuit, the settlement ends a struggle that lasted more than four years. In 2014, Chris Sourovelis nearly lost his house after his son was arrested for selling $40 worth of drugs. Although Chris did nothing wrong, the police showed up unannounced one day and threw his entire family out of his home.
Im glad that there is finally a measure of justice for people like me who did nothing wrong but still found themselves fighting to keep what was rightly theirs, said Chris. No one in Philadelphia should ever have to go through the nightmare my family faced.
The agreement comes in the form of two legally-binding consent decrees, one governing Philadelphias forfeiture practices and the other providing compensation to victims.
In the first, Philadelphia, the District Attorney and the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania agree to dismantle the citys forfeiture machine. Among other things, the consent decree would:
The second consent decree ends Philadelphia law enforcements unconstitutional financial incentive. It blocks the District Attorneys Office and the Philadelphia Police Department from using forfeiture proceeds on salaries or other law-enforcement purposes, instead directing those funds to community-based drug prevention and treatment programs. It also establishes a $3 million fund to compensate forfeiture victims, with the following details:
The parties will ask the Court to preliminarily approve the settlement. Once that happens, Philadelphians who were caught up in the citys forfeiture machine can apply for compensation. IJ will work with a third-party administrator to review all claims and ensure they are carefully processed.
This agreement comprehensively reforms the largest municipal forfeiture program in the country. However, across the United States, law enforcement continues to use civil forfeiture to take property, often when no criminal charges are filed. In addition to defending property owners across the country, IJ will be bringing civil forfeiture to the U.S. Supreme Court this fall in a case called Timbs v. Indiana.
Todays settlement is an unprecedented blow against civil forfeiture, said IJ President Scott Bullock. IJ is continuing the fight to stop the government from using the justice system to raise revenue. Philadelphia is just one place where officials created a rigged system that deprived individuals of their property without due process.
I was wrong about so much about the war on drugs. It is worse than the drugs.
The most draconian and harshest consequences should not necessarily be meted out against our citizens. We shouldnt even be focused on interdiction.
At this point narcotics are a clear and present danger and the elimination of them should be taken world wide. Sovereignty be damned.
Civil forfeiture is so blatantly unconstitutional that I can’t believe it was ever done by anyone. Then again, governments will do anything they can d@mn well get away with. At least when Democrats are in power.
Exactly. Lots of money and power in civil forfeiture. A truly evil program, and still very common around the U.S.
Wow — here goes that tagline #IBelieveTheBuick
I don’t think the $3 million dollar fund is nearly enough. I think it should be about 100 times that amount.
This is good news except for only getting UP TO 100% of your property back if you are not convinced. You should get 100% back including lawyers fees and compensation for time off work as well as an added 10%
There was an article the other day about a case currently before the Supreme Court. It looks like there will be a federal ruling against this kind of thing in the not too distant future.
Don't believe it? See what happens to "your" property if you don't pay property tax...
And a significant portion should be paid by the individuals who deprived you of it under color of authority.
Those who practice asset seizure belong in jail for their crimes. Passing a law to “allow” it does not make it legal.
Great news, and a good start.
And hopefully, this will be the first step to make the system right. I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve taken money from drug dealers.
But, I’ve taken that money, when the guy was caught with drugs. Put in the Evidence Room and when his/her case was done with, they could either collect it or not. However, what some departments and agencies were doing, and still do, is insane. They have units walking around airports profiling folks or getting information from wiretaps, that just walk up to a person and demand to know where, why and how they have so much money on them. I asked what they did if someone told them that they do not want to talk to them or requested a lawyer. I never got an answer.
A great victory! But not enough.
Return to USConstitution, or perish.
I am sure that it will SHOCK my fellow FReepers if I dare to mention that the last GOP Mayor of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, left office in 1952. When you have single party rule for that long, this kind of corruption naturally grows as it is the knowing that the ‘system’ will continue regardless of election results that keeps people continuing bad behavior.
Thanks for posting this! IJ is a wonderful organization that fights big government as advocates for freedom and the rights of the little guys. We are regular contributors.
I wonder how much IJ got for their fees. I hope it is enough to start taking this nationwide. Asset forfeiture and the WOD in general is a stain on our nation.
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