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Pennsylvania House of Representatives
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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: June 2, 2015 05:15 PM
From: Representative Jim Cox
To: All House members
Subject: Civil Asset Forfeiture
 
In the near future, I will introduce legislation that will reform civil asset forfeiture to provide greater protection for the due process rights and the property rights of Pennsylvanians.

Under current law, prosecutors and police can seize and forfeit property when they claim that the property has a connection to crime. The forfeiture proceeding is then separated from any criminal prosecution and is litigated in civil court. Because this is a civil matter, the property owner does not have to be convicted or even charged with a crime in order for the property to be forfeited.

The property owner also has considerably fewer rights than he would in criminal court, including no right to counsel and a lower evidentiary burden for the commonwealth. If the commonwealth prevails, the property and the revenue from liquidating the property go directly to the seizing agency, which creates a financial incentive for the agency to seize and forfeit property whenever possible.

Public interest law organizations and press reports indicate that most people never challenge the forfeiture. My legislation will reform asset forfeiture to strike a greater balance between the due process rights of Pennsylvanians and the ability of law enforcement to use this process to break up criminal activity.

My bill will include four key reforms:
  • Requiring a criminal conviction of the property owner before the property can be forfeited. Law enforcement could still seize the property pre-conviction if they establish probable cause that the property is linked to criminal activity. It would then be forfeited IF the criminal prosecution concludes with a conviction.
  • Altering the revenue stream from forfeiture proceeds to divert the revenue to the general fund of the governing body (the county or the commonwealth).
  • Providing protections for innocent third parties.
  • Closing the loophole that allows local authorities to continue civil asset forfeiture by coordinating with the federal government, a process known as equitable sharing.
My legislation will be similar to bills proposed by Senator Folmer and Senator Williams.

Please join me in protecting the rights of our citizens.
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Introduced as HB508