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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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 2:32am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 29 Dec 2014 @ 4:12am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        The Wanderer (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 6:51am

        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...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 7:04am

          Re: Re: Nope.

          hmm... if those generous gifts were, say, just under $10k, seems like the IRS should be able to seize the entire assets of the PD.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 7:03am

      Re:

      Seems to me they've been getting "the desired result" for them--lots of free stuff.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 3:10pm

      Re:

      Sure the initial idea was great ...

      You are no way cynical enough. Not an insult; just an observation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    sketch, 29 Dec 2014 @ 4:26am

    Achievement Unlocked. *Detective Badge Achieved*

    $40 drug sales? Thats some good police work, Lou. And if we take the house from this monster's parents, I'll bet we put this kingpin out of business for life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 4:28am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 6:10am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:04am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Shadow Dragon (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 4:39am

    There oughta be a law

    If the DA is caught abusing assets forfeiture,they should have their assets forfeited.Fit for Tat

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 12:38pm

      Re: There oughta be a law

      Some or all of them, depending on what exactly they have accepted in other asset forfeiture cases.

      Did they okay someone losing their house? Then they just lost theirs. A car? Then they just lost theirs. Make the punishment match the crime.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Josh (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 5:02am

    defense

    "dismissals of cases against Sourovelis's and Welch's homes" How do homes defend themselves or show up in court?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 29 Dec 2014 @ 5:44am

      Re: defense

      I think that may be a key part of how they manage to win these cases.

      It's brilliant. How can the defendant make a case if they don't fit in the courthouse?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 5:23am

    Typos in article

    "(and I'm pointing this out against to highlight the ridiculousness of asset forfeitrue)"

    ==>

    "(and I'm pointing this out again to highlight the ridiculousness of asset forfeiture)"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Max (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 5:54am

    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...?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 6:19am

    I nominate the Philly DA for re-gifter of the year.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andyroo, 29 Dec 2014 @ 6:34am

    Shame

    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.


    The fat that thy tried to seize a home because of a $40 DRUG CASE BY THE SON IS ENOUGH TO SHOW HOW CORRUPT THE SYSTEM IS AND I HOPE CONGRESS DOES SOMETHING TO PUNISH THESE POLICE FORCES, MAYBE BY REMOVING ALL FORFEITURE LAWS COMPLETELY.

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 6:42am

      Re: Shame

      Civil Forfeiture laws are all in contravention of the Bill of Rights.

      But you will not find enough fellow Americans to help you dismantle this piece of trash because these laws are entrenched on both sides of the isle.

      I sadly am afraid that none of this will change until the lead flies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 6:54am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 12:08pm

        Re: Re: Shame

        "Corruption is still illegal"
        Not while money is free speech.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 29 Dec 2014 @ 12:14pm

        Re: Re: Shame

        What do you expect when living in an occupied country? Just because sham elections are being held does not mean that you magically have the rights in your nominal constitution.

        You are not the one buying your politicians. It may be mostly your money, but you are not controlling it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 3:01pm

        Re: Re: Shame

        "Corruption is still illegal"

        Corruption has never been illegal (only very specific, narrow forms of corruption have been criminalized). Look at our system right now: hopelessly corrupt, but the vast majority of that corruption is entirely legal. Such is as it has always been.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 8:39am

    they do it because they are criminal gangs themselves and they know, few people are going to fight back against such corruption when they have armed thugs on their side ready and willing to assault, arrest and shoot anyone that does not comply.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 9:53am

    Philadelphia, we have a problem

    "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."

    At the rate a city attorney is paid I would imagine that the COST of seizing that $178 actually EXCEEDED the amount seized!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:32am

    '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!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:48am

    What may have started as a way to cripple drug organizations has become a form of petty government theft.

    I wouldn't call stealing a house, which for even a modest one can easily be valued at well over a hundred thousand dollars, "petty theft."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 11:30am

    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.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/courts-must-do-more-to-recover-criminal-gains-ur ges-labour-9704923.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 12:24pm

    So who are the good guys? Makes the phrase organized crime something of a joke.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 2:38pm

    For all the money

    Its interesting that the states Take in so much MJ every year, and BURN IT...
    Why not sell it to the states where its legal..MAKE A PROFIT..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 2:56pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jean, 3 Jan 2015 @ 12:44pm

    Philidelphia asset forfeiture

    Legalized theft through asset forfeiture laws is no less a
    theft and those who instigate it are nothing more then thieves despite the claim that they are doing it for the
    public good. When the harm inflicted on the public exceeds
    the so called good it is supposed to effect it is bad law
    and should be abolished.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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