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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: March 25, 2019 03:25 PM
From: Senator Anthony H. Williams
To: All Senate members
Subject: Enhancing Civil Forfeiture Protections
In the near future, I will be introducing legislation to strengthen protections of property owners in civil forfeiture proceedings. This bill is intended to build on the reforms made by the General Assembly in Act 13 of 2017, which added new protections for real estate owners and increased the burden of proof required for asset forfeiture.

Forfeiture of assets such as cash, automobiles and property currently occur as civil proceedings against the property in question, allowing assets to be seized from property owners regardless of whether they have been convicted of a crime for which forfeiture is a prescribed legal remedy. This has led to an increase in forfeiture cases nationwide as an alternative to criminal proceedings, where the burden of proof is much higher and defendants are afforded due process rights. The resulting system allows property owners to be deprived of their due process, losing homes and other valuables without ever being charged for a crime. According to University of Pennsylvania School of Law professor Louis Rulli, a nationally-recognized expert in civil forfeiture, these actions disproportionately affect low-income minorities.

Not only are innocent property owners entangled in this archaic legal process, there is also a perverse incentive for prosecutors and police departments to continue using civil forfeiture as an alternative to the criminal justice system. Under current law, cash and proceeds of sold property is required to be transferred to the county operating fund but then immediately released back to the District Attorney’s office. While this money may be spent on community drug prevention and antiviolence programs, it is most often used for police and prosecutor salaries and equipment.

My bill would address the largest issues still surrounding civil forfeiture by requiring a connected criminal conviction of a property owner prior to forfeiture and returning the proceeds of forfeiture to the general fund of counties, or the state in cases where the Pennsylvania Attorney General prosecuted the case. These two reforms should put an end to abuses of the civil forfeiture statute and instead return the practice to its original intent: seizing the ill-gotten gains of convicted career criminals.

I hope you will join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation. If you have questions or comments, you may contact my legislative office at 717-787-5970. Thank you.

Introduced as SB1203