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Pennsylvania House of Representatives
https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20150&cosponId=17362
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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: February 10, 2015 02:50 PM
From: Representative Angel Cruz
To: All House members
Subject: Preventing “prosecuting for profit” in Philadelphia civil forfeitures cases
 
In the near future, I will introduce legislation that would address a conflict of interest in our civil forfeiture law and increase prosecutor accountability.

Last year, a Philadelphia couple made headlines after they lost their home as a result of Pennsylvania’s controversial civil forfeiture law. In March 2014, their child was arrested for selling drugs outside of their home. Under the protection of our civil forfeiture law, the Philadelphia police evicted the family and seized their house, though the property owners are not accused of any wrongdoing.

As many of you know, Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture program has been successful in depriving drug traffickers of cash, cars and other fruits of their crimes. According to the Institute for Justice, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has converted real and personal property into a $5.8 million average annual stream of revenue. Between 2002 and 2012, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office seized and forfeited over 3,000 vehicles, nearly 1,200 homes and other real estate properties and $44 million in cash. Altogether, Philadelphia has generated a staggering $64 million in forfeiture proceeds, a portion of which is used to pay the salaries of the prosecutors who have a case to prove against families such as the one mentioned above. I believe this creates both a conflict of interest and an incentive for the DA's office to seize property.

Our law also permits the DA’s office to use these large sums of money for “law enforcement purposes” without sufficient state oversight. This lack of accountability has yielded disappointing results in several other states. In Massachusetts, the state auditor’s office discovered that a local district attorney had used confiscated funds to purchase an ice-resurfacing machine and lawn equipment. In Montgomery County, Texas, the district attorney used funds to purchase liquor for a cook-off for workers.

In an effort to prevent incidences such as these, my legislation would simply redirect Philadelphia's controlled substance civil forfeiture proceeds to the General Fund. This important change would provide much needed accountability and spending oversight. My bill also requires a conviction of the property owner before ownership of that property is transferred to the DA's office. This would address the issue raised by the Philadelphia couple who are suffering as a result of their son selling drugs, unbeknownst to them, on their property.

I ask that you join me by co-sponsoring this legislation. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact my Harrisburg office at 717-705-1925

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Introduced as HB532