Philadelphia DA Drops Case Against Parents Whose House Was Seized Over A $40 Drug Sale By Their Son

from the a-man's-home-is-his-presumably-guilty-castle dept

The belated public outing of abusive asset forfeiture laws and programs is finally having some effect. Last week, news arrived that the IRS was dismissing its case against a restaurant owner — something that was triggered by three years of sub-$10,000 deposits rather than any evidence of criminal involvement or activity.

This week, it’s Philadelphia’s district attorney dropping a couple of suddenly toxic cases.

The Philadelphia District Attorney has dropped its efforts to seize the houses of two area families after their cases drew national and critical attention to the city’s use of asset forfeiture to seize citizens’ property.

The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, announced on Thursday morning that the Philadelphia D.A. was dropping its asset forfeiture cases against the homes of Christos Sourovelis and Doila Welch.

As C.J. Ciaramella reports, the case against Christos Sourovelis’s home (notably, not against the Sourovelises themselves) was particularly weak. The home was seized solely because of a $40 drug sale by their son.

In Welch’s case, her estranged husband was selling marijuana out of the house while she was mostly confined to a bed upstairs by her disability.

Philadelphia hauls in about $6 million a year from asset forfeiture, a program ostensibly aimed at curbing drug trafficking. Ciaramella points out that this total is greater than Brooklyn and Los Angeles combined. As is the case with any easily-abused program, it can quickly become too much of a “good” thing. What may have started as a way to cripple drug organizations has become a form of petty government theft.

A City Paper review of 100 cases from 2011 and 2012 found the median amount of cash seized by the District Attorney was only $178.

Despite the dismissals of cases against Sourovelis’s and Welch’s homes (and I’m pointing this out again to highlight the ridiculousness of asset forfeitrue), the district attorney is still claiming both a victory and prime, beachfront real estate on the Moral High Ground.

“The class-action lawyers are trying to portray today’s events as some sort of victory. The truth is that we resolve most of our real estate forfeiture actions by agreement, just as we are doing here, and we have been doing that since long before this lawsuit was filed.

“We do it because the purpose of the forfeiture process is to protect public safety and relieve neighborhoods of rampant drug dealing.”

Sure. And it has nothing to do with the rising public outcry over these easily-abused programs. Or the continuing class-action lawsuit against the city over asset forfeiture. The fact that the DA just gave up two homes the city could have easily kept is actually the admission of a small defeat. The ease with which the city can seize and liquidate assets is truly amazing, especially considering how hard those whose assets have been seized have to fight to regain control of their property.

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Comments on “Philadelphia DA Drops Case Against Parents Whose House Was Seized Over A $40 Drug Sale By Their Son”

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Ninja (profile) says:

This is pretty much the physical version of the domain seizures. Sure the initial idea was great, the drug lords were very slippery but it quickly became an abused tool. I’d infer that if law enforcement did their investigative job well and patiently they would eventually get the desired result. Much like the online version does not stop the sites from reopening in a different address outside of US law enforcement reach just seizing the dealers assets don’t put them behind bars. May incapacitate them financially but those that are determined will be back in business in no time with added caution.

David says:

Re: Nope.

I’d infer that if law enforcement did their investigative job well and patiently they would eventually get the desired result.

Sorry, but no dice. “Drug lords” are few, dangerous, well-connected and wealthy. More likely than not, they are already donating to the police retirement funds as well as giving generously directly to several officers and police departments.

It’s much less risky to seize the property of ordinary citizens. They are much less likely to retaliate both judicially, with hit jobs, and by withdrawing perks and are more in the ballpark of what police forces may hope to tackle.

For that reason, civil asset forfeiture is an entirely useless concept. It can at best be used for skimming small fry, encouraging police officers to not actually go after drug dealers but instead take an occasional share in their profits.

But you don’t mess with the big guys except in criminal proceedings since the only way you’ll be safe from revenge is if they are locked up and out of grace with their connections.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Nope.

“Drug lords” are few, dangerous, well-connected and wealthy. More likely than not, they are already donating to the police retirement funds as well as giving generously directly to several officers and police departments.

On that premise, might it not be reasonable to treat donations to police departments, officers, benevolent organizations, and the like as cause for suspicion of concealed criminal activity? Not warrant-level probable cause, but at least “be wary of these people, go out of your way to avoid giving them the benefit of the doubt if they ever run afoul of the law”.

There would be problems with that, of course, but it seems like a reasonable variant of the basic counterbalancing policy for a conflict-of-interest scenario…

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Perhaps this should serve as an example of needing to consider things fully.

We have a “horrible” problem, we give them a solution (without boundaries, because we trust them), they get bored of how the new toy is supposed to work and push the limits, when they discover there are no limits they keep going.

Drug War – Lets sue the money! – Oh hey we can get that dudes Mercedes because of a crack rock – Look we fixed our budget issue.
Now this isn’t what was intended, kid sells $40 of pot and forfeits the family home… but without any limits this is where we are.
And the rules pretty much do not matter, IIRC eastern coast US PD actually has a line item in the budget about how much they need to seize to keep the PD going… despite the whole do not use it that way rules.

Society had a problem, a solution was given to calm the hysteria and call the problem solved… and made a much worse problem in its wake. Sound familiar?
Perhaps if we stop looking for the magical one size fits all fix, and do that hard work that doesn’t make for the better soundbite, we might get better solutions… because it takes time to fix things. This isn’t a sitcom where it all gives solved in 30 minutes, and we really need a better attention span to make sure the fix isn’t worse than the problem in the end. Or do we want to claim TSA, Patriot Act, “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”, lets hand military surplus (read as DoD budget pork no one else wanted) to local law enforcement, and a whole host of other chickens that have come home to roost good ideas.

Society is hard work, perhaps it is time we stop letting it be driven by the whims of those who can scream the loudest but can’t think 2 steps ahead.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Perhaps this should serve as an example of needing to consider things fully.”

Perhaps this should serve as an example of why we should follow the damned Constitution? You know… the part where the Bill o Right says… They cannot seize anything without a warrant, and the part where people have a right to a trial.

And considering the nature of a building that pretty much never moves without a great deal of effort, seizing such things as though it were a wrist watch is pretty blatant abuse.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Which is why they created the end run of suing property.
Property has no right to a trial, and a good citizen can totally access the legal system to get back the property without any fuss… (falls over laughing).

Again it is the result of bad laws passed to get the “bad guy” that people supported until it happened to catch them too, then suddenly they can see how wrong it is.

Max (profile) says:

A few hundred years back those who had power could take anything from anybody, any time they wanted – and everybody was perfectly aware that was the case. Now, we’re MUCH more civilized, and in large parts of the world those in power allegedly serve the good of the people – except they can still take anything from anybody, any time they want, and hardly even bother pretending to justify it. There’s simply no comparison, right…?

Andyroo says:


Make sure your house is fully mortgaged so there is no value in it if they steal it. If the banks demand you continue paying the mortgage point them towards the DA and advise that you would rather claim bankruptcy than pay for a house that has been seized over some small drug purchases.

I understand if a house is being used for continuous selling of drugs and massive amounts of drugs are found there, but even then it should be a process that goes through court and not a judgement made by some corrupt cop department that would get a cut of the theft.

This is plain simple theft by the Police and hopefully the FBI will investigate and charge DA’s who have been abusing the system and probably selling the homes to cops for next to nothing.

Sadly public servants have been getting away with theft and murder for far too long and amazingly this is in America, where people actually support these communist type actions.


Again sadly in America corruption is legal and this just proves that once more, and Americans will still proudly claim that they are the best country in the world while they are being stolen from legally by corrupt cops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Shame

Corruption is still illegal, but the prosecutors are declining to charge them through sheer generosity. Our entire constitution is null and void at this point. Not one of the Inalienable rights granted to us are actually protected any more. Our officials who swore to uphold it and blatantly have not, are no longer covered by the office they claim. Our congress has given up the right to exclusively create law and now allows the Executive branch to create its own new offices and new laws to go with it. We now have more “law” being created per year, than any person could possibly read. Most of these laws are also contradictory and unconstitutional in the first place, but no one really is looking that hard since FIOA has been changed to mean whatever the responding office decides it means.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘become a form of petty government theft’

i dont know about anyone else, but i dont call the seizing of someones property ‘a form of petty government theft’! people had to work their ass off in 99% of cases trying to pay the exorbitant mortgages and other bills every month! to have someone come along and put a claim in to take that property away, especially under the ridiculous circumstances stated is completely taking the piss!!

Anonymous Coward says:

There is a similar law in the UK which is aimed at large scale criminals, but the reality is the vast majority of criminals who have managed to amass millions tend to be pretty smart and as such pay back either nothing or very little.

Don’t get me wrong, they often do end up serving a jail sentence, but at the end of it they go back to their ill gotten gains.

tqk (profile) says:

We do it because the purpose of the forfeiture process is to protect public safety and relieve neighborhoods of rampant drug dealing.

Liar, liar, pants on fire. I’ll also add armed robbery, and chutzpah. I’m not Jewish, but it fits. I hope we’re beginning to force these bottom feeders back into the mud, but I’m resigned to the fact it may take some time. Good to see good people win one.

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