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Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said he expects the case to be appealed to the Supreme Court, because Pellegrini’s decision seems to run counter to “decades” of court precedent regarding Pennsylvania forfeiture laws.
Long said the state should be able to seize private property when used in connection with a crime.
“It is being used in the furtherance of criminal activity that is detrimental to society at large,” said Long.
Larry Salzman, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that works to challenge forfeiture laws, said those laws represent one of the most serious assaults on property rights today.
In many states, including Pennsylvania, police departments and prosecutors get a portion of the proceeds for their own budgets.
“So forfeiture becomes a means by which law enforcement agencies can pad their budgets, so they end up with a direct and perverse financial incentive to pursue forfeitures very aggressively,” Salzman said.
The Institute for Justice was not involved in the Palazzari case, but after reviewing Pellegrini’s ruling, Salzman said the decision was a modest first step toward better protecting property rights in the state.
“This case in Pennsylvania at least makes the government come into court with real evidence and hold a hearing,” he said. “But it doesn’t change this perverse incentive and it doesn’t change the fact that someone could lose their property without being convicted of a crime.”
Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley, in a dissenting opinion, agreed that forfeiture proceedings are “quasi-criminal” in nature, but said they remain, ultimately, civil hearings.
“The opportunity to be heard does not require the equivalent of an evidentiary hearing in every case,” McGinley wrote.
In some situations, he wrote, conducting a hearing would be wasteful when the facts are not in dispute, the judge wrote.