Philly Civil Asset Forfeiture: Stop and Seize Dragnet Gets Innocent, Guilty


Using “civil asset forfeiture,” the Philadelphia District Attorney may sue to take ownership of confiscated property and, if successful, keep it, says City Paper in Philadelphia. The law has laid the framework for a civil asset forfeiture program that brings in upwards of $6 million a year from cases against thousands of people, with little oversight of how cases are pursued or how profits are distributed. The process has little regard for a property owner's guilt or innocence.

A City Paper investigation, assisted by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, found a program that operates with great efficiency largely by allowing questions of guilt, innocence, or whether a crime has even been alleged to come last, if at all. The newspaper analyzed records for thousands of forfeiture cases, monitored legal proceedings and spoke with people caught up in the process of attempting to reclaim their property. The picture that emerged was a “seize first, ask questions later” policy in forfeiting individuals' money. It’s a corollary to the better-known policy of “stop and frisk:” call it “stop and seize,” a legal dragnet that catches the innocent, guilty, and unaccused alike.

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