Lawsuit Settlement Looking To Kill Philadelphia's Severely Abused Forfeiture Program

from the no-more-'$40-in-drugs-gets-cops-a-new-house'-crap dept

The Institute for Justice has secured a big win in Philadelphia. The city's asset forfeiture program is being torn down and rebuilt as the result of IJ litigation.

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.

The city's program was infamous for things like seizing a house because one resident (not the owner) sold cops $40 worth of drugs. Another case featuring the IJ's legal assistance sought the return of another home seized after a $140 drug purchase. In the first instance, prosecutors dropped the case and returned the property after the litigation received national attention. In the latter, the state's Supreme Court found the seizure of the house unwarranted and unjustifiable -- a harsh punishment that far outstripped the seriousness of the crime.

The proposed settlement [PDF] would drastically alter Philly's forfeiture laws and policies. Importantly, it would strip the financial incentive for seizures by redirecting forfeiture funds towards drug rehab programs and away from the law enforcement agencies that have directly profited from this program for years.

It also would make tiny forfeitures -- the ones least likely to be disputed -- a historical relic. Seizures of less than $1,000 would either need to be tied to an arrest or used as evidence in criminal cases. Cash seizures of less than $250 would be completely forbidden. This is important because data shows the median cash seizure by Philly law enforcement is $178.

More due process is being introduced into the forfeiture process as well. If citizens can show a need for the seized property, they may be able to retain possession of it throughout the forfeiture proceedings. Property owners would -- for the first time -- be allowed to file requests for continuances if unable to make scheduled court dates. It also fully shifts the burden of proof to prosecutors, making them prove owners knew about illegal use of their property.

If the entire settlement is approved, the perverse incentives that have turned a potentially-useful crime fighting tool into a crime of opportunity will be removed and replaced with a set of deterrents that will steer law enforcement towards seizures supported by prosecutions and convictions, rather than by conclusory statements about theoretical illegal activity.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2018 @ 3:38pm

    Asset Forfeiture is Legalized Armed Robbery

    And not one thing different.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2018 @ 4:06pm

    Sounds like some significant progress. Now if they can only reform the parking ticket racket.

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

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Oct 2018 @ 4:30pm

    Almost there

    Too bad they didn't get to the point where all forfeitures require a conviction of the person in possession of the asset, regardless of who the owner is and regardless of the size of the asset. And to go a step further, why is the owner of the asset, if not present at the arrest, a part of anything? If they prove some connection in court, and get a conviction for that connection, it would be a different matter.

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

  • identicon
    Corrupt cop, 3 Oct 2018 @ 4:54pm

    "Kill"? That's dangerous! Let's not change anything.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Oct 2018 @ 6:35pm

    Good, but...

    While it certainly seems like some long overdue reforms of the disgusting practice, and the sort of thing that should be implemented on a federal level rather than just a city, the fact that it needs to be spelled out that no, you don't get to steal a house over $40 worth of drugs is beyond pathetic, and indicative of immense levels of corruption.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2018 @ 8:32am

      Re: Good, but...

      But the house looked at me with a mean 'frutive' glance... pretty sure it was smoking something too (saw puffs out of the chimney) and I know it was filming me, even after I told it to 'step back' it wouldn't move, therefore I had to steal, I mean seize it...

      said every backwoods country hick cop who has stolen goods from citizens...

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

  • identicon
    Philly Bob, 4 Oct 2018 @ 12:03pm

    But... But... we NEED that money for tanks and heavy artillery!
    Have you been to some of those neighborhoods without a bazooka?

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

  • identicon
    Grrrrrrrrr, 4 Oct 2018 @ 2:38pm

    If a cop steals, they are no longer a cop, but a thief...

    And what do we do to thieves caught in the act in our homes?

    Why, we shoot them, dead.

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

    • identicon
      Grrrrrrrrr, 4 Oct 2018 @ 2:40pm

      Re: If a cop steals, they are no longer a cop, but a thief...

      Only thieves get shot.
      So as long as cops don't steal, they remain cops, and safe.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.