HARRISBURG – A Commonwealth Court ruling is being hailed as a victory for property rights and a small blow against civil asset forfeiture laws, which allow the state to seize private property that may be connected to a crime.

In a decision filed last month, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini called the state’s civil asset forfeiture law “state-sanctioned theft” and ordered a lower court to re-examine a recent forfeiture case in Centre County. Though the state is expected to appeal the ruling, Pellegrini’s decision may set a new precedent for these types of cases, making it more difficult for the state to seize private property believed to have been used in a crime and guaranteeing defendants the chance to be heard in court before property is taken.

“It’s a win for property owners. It’s a win for property rights in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Steven Passarello, the Blair County attorney who argued the case before the state court.