Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Effort Gutted

North Philadelphian Carol Johnson* saved $2,000 from her pension checks by storing the money in an upstairs bedroom. One day, the 87 year old's savings vanished in a matter of minutes—taken by law enforcement after Carol’s husband Kevin* was found with two marijuana joints in their home.

Carol was never charged with a crime, but it didn’t matter. Under Pennsylvania’s civil asset forfeiture laws, cash, cars, and even homes can be forfeited without a hearing. As opposed to most legal proceedings, civil asset forfeiture turns justice on its head, forcing property owners to prove their innocence and that their property itself is innocent. It’s a system in desperate need of reform.

SB 869, sponsored by Senators Mike Folmer and Anthony Williams was designed to stop the abuse of this practice by requiring a conviction before a person’s property can be seized. Unfortunately, the bill was gutted in the Senate Judiciary committee last week. The new bill language makes a few procedural changes to the process, but it continues to allow confiscation without a conviction. That’s why we've withdrawn our support of the bill along with the Philadelphia Bar Association, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

No one should have their property taken away from them because of a crime they didn’t commit. The new version of SB 869 does nothing to prevent this injustice.

*Names have been changed to protect of privacy.