Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The presumption of innocence is at the heart of our nation’s criminal justice system. Yet here in Pennsylvania you can lose your property without ever being convicted of a crime—and only get it back after you prove your innocence.

Our constitution provides strict protections respecting the sanctity of property rights, declaring the no one should lose their property without due process. Unfortunately in Pennsylvania, our civil asset forfeiture process violates the spirit of that promise.

As opposed to most legal proceedings, in civil asset forfeiture, you have to prove your innocence, and that your property itself is innocent. This isn’t right; no one should lose their property without being convicted of a crime.

The current system of civil asset forfeiture opens the door for abuses, and allows taking of property without a conviction or even being charged—in many cases with the law enforcement agency or even officer involved personally benefiting. That isn’t to suggest that’s the norm, but there have been several instances of abuse.

Individuals and families with limited means, who can’t afford to hire an attorney, are the ones who are hurt most by abuses in the system.

That’s why today we joined with the ACLU, Americans for Prosperity, Keystone Progress, the Pennsylvania Prison Society, and others to support civil asset forfeiture reform. Senate Bill 869, introduced by Senators Mike Folmer and Anthony Williams, would deter the abuse of asset forfeiture and protect the rights of the innocent.

And to be clear: Nothing in this legislation prevents law enforcement from seizing property when there is reason to do so, and nothing we are talking hampers our ability to protect public safety. What this does is preserve a principle: No one should have their property taken away from them because of a crime they didn’t commit.