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Right on Crime | November 9, 2015
This morning, the Daily Signal released the first piece in a three-part series detailing civil asset forfeiture abuse in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. Originally designed as a tool for law enforcement to target drug trafficking and money laundering, civil asset forfeiture is a procedure that allows police to seize property suspected of relating to a criminal activity—often times without levying a charge, or proving guilt.
While Philadelphians are starting to fight back against the use of this constitutionally dubious procedure, severe obstructions are preserving the “policing for profit” method.
In his interview with the Daily Signal, Leandro Banks tells a story of police officers seizing close to $1,800 of his paycheck under the assumption the cash was related to drug dealing. After returning to court multiple times and presenting his pay stubs to prove his innocence, Banks finally regained possession of his property.
While Banks “got to fight it,” for others, the battle against civil asset forfeiture is never won. In Philadelphia’s courtroom #478, prosecutors are difficult to access, wait times are long, legal forms are complex, and some individuals are required to make up to ten trips to prove their innocence.
Darpana Sheth, a litigator for Institute for Justice who is leading a class action lawsuit against the city, believes civil asset forfeiture’s “guilty until proven innocent” method is unconstitutional:
“The property owner bears the burden to affirmatively prove that they didn’t know about the illegal activity or they didn’t consent to it… In these civil forfeiture cases, the property owner has to come forward and affirmatively prove a negative, that they didn’t know about the illegal activity, which is a very hard thing to do. The presumption of innocence is being turned on its head.”
For some property owners, the opportunity to regain property is dismissed upon failure to attend a meeting. For other victims, the seized property is not worth the fight.
Between 2011 and 2013, half of Philadelphia’s cash forfeitures “involved amounts of less than $192.” However, Sheth states, “it’s those small sums that boost the city’s forfeiture revenue.” Research by IJ and ACLU show that small sum seizures can amount to more than 7% of the agency’s budget, and $25 million for law enforcement salaries.
According to Sheth, “Prosecutors have a direct financial incentive in the outcome of that proceeding” and “that is very problematic.”
To learn more about Philadelphia’s problematic policing procedures and Sheth’s fight for liberty, read the full Daily Signal story here: http://dailysignal.com/2015/11/09/a-look-inside-the-philadelphia-courtroom-where-property-owners-fight-the-government-to-get-back-their-cash-homes-and-cars/.