Asset Forfeiture

Institute for Justice Files Suit to Stop Philly's Civil Forfeiture Abuse

|

"The precinct captain has a fondness for little lion sculptures, so we'll want that, too."
Credit: Institute for Justice

The Institute for Justice (IJ) recently announced a big push to attempt to force reforms to the various broken civil asset forfeiture systems that law enforcement agencies and prosecutors' offices used to strip citizens of their money and property to keep for themselves. At the time, IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock told Reason to expect a "whole string" of new cases coming over the next year.

This week, IJ sets its sights on Philadelphia, filing a class action suit with the assistance of law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg. Here's how IJ describes Philadelphia's terrible system, clearly weighted against its own citizenry:

Property owners who find out that Philadelphia is threatening to take their cash, cars and even homes must go to Courtroom 478 in City Hall. But Courtroom 478 isn't a courtroom at all: there is no judge or jury, just the prosecutors who run the show. Owners who ask if they need a lawyer are frequently told that one isn't necessary, only to then be given a stack of complicated legal documents they must fill out under oath. Time and time again, property owners must return to Courtroom 478—up to ten or more times in some cases— to answer questions and prove their property was never involved in a crime. If they miss a single appearance, they can lose their property forever. ?

Making matters worse, Philadelphia's police and prosecutors get to keep and use everything that the machine snatches up. Philadelphia's population is smaller than Brooklyn, New York's and Los Angeles County's, but Philadelphia brings in twice as much forfeiture revenue as the two—combined. Forfeiture revenue equals almost 20 percent of the District Attorney's Office's annual budget and the city spends nearly 40 percent of those proceeds on salaries, including the salaries of the very police and prosecutors doing the seizing. ?

"Philadelphia's forfeiture scheme is especially outrageous. It allows the District Attorneys to pad their budget with millions of dollars in unaccountable funds by stripping innocent residents of their rights and property," said IJ attorney and lead counsel on the case, Darpana Sheth. "Over a ten-year period police and prosecutors took in over $64 million in forfeiture proceeds—with $25 million going toward their salaries. The city's residents are not ATMs." ?

IJ is starting off the case by representing the family of Christos Sourovelis, who have had their home threatened by authorities because his son was caught selling $40 worth of drugs outside their house.

Read more about the case here.

UPDATE: Here's the video IJ put together about Philly:

NEXT: Ferguson Police Chief Says No Dashcams in Cop Cars, Body Suits Not in Use Yet—Riots Continue

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Government is just a name for the homes we steal together.

  2. IJ benefits from my Amazon Smile account. I hope they’ve gotten some decent scratch outta me, because i buy a crapload of crap from amazon.

    1. Did not know about Amazon Smile. IJ is about to get real happy. We buy everything from Amazon. Clothes, streaming video, books, bicycles, groceries; everything.

      Thanks for the heads up.

    2. Me too! They were an easy choice out of the charities listed.

    3. Yep, us too – Wounded Warrior Project.

  3. Please give me some news about Philadelphia that doesn’t have to do with the city’s insistence on running roughshod over people’s rights. Also, file this under “Without government, who would … ?”

  4. Simple solution: send all the money to the state’s general fund. Take away the incentive.

    1. Not even that – send it to a different state’s general fund.

    2. Even simpler solution:

      You can’t seize assets until somebody has been actually convicted of an actual crime, committed using those actual assets as a material element of the crime.

      1. ^This. QED.

      2. I was trying to offer something realistic.

        1. Pish, sarc. This is HyR. We don’t need no steenkin’ realism.

      3. All assets seized (in accord with above), go into a fund that helps poor defendants pay for a lawyer.

        1. The whole point of seizing assets is to prevent people from hiring decent representation.

  5. Well, if they hadn’t been doing anything wrong, the police wouldn’t be going after them. Those parents deserve to have their house taken, and let’s put their kids into the CYS system, because you know they are crappy parents, or they would have taught their children that you follow all laws all the time, except the ones about underage drinking and anything that has to do with traffic regulation. I can’t believe these people would raise their child in such a way that he would sell drugs and then expect that they WON’T have their lives righteously ruined by the state.

    /common example; Homo sapiens pennsylvanius

  6. The Tobacco and various agricultural outfits ran slavery operations for 100s of years and I saw not a single asset taken from them. I do understand that Slavery was legal at the time and I am not saying we should start seizing assets from these companies either.

    I read of a case where a grandmother lost her home because her granddaughter was caught selling crack three blocks away and used the grandmother’s address.

    I don’t believe in any this practice unless the crime was theft and we are doing restitution to the victim. Never ever should the victim be the government or the police department.

    Get rid of this horrible practice. Right now, this creates a profit motive for government employees. This is nonsense.

    1. Clock stopped.

      1. The Rapture will occur in five … four … three ….

  7. Where are the Robin Williams threads?

    Lou Reed allegedly dies and there are 30 stories on him. Robin Williams dies and he barely makes the links.

    WTF?

    1. Frank,
      Here:
      http://www.sfgate.com/
      And you’ll find ‘edgy’ quotes, such as:
      ‘The second amendment says we can bear arms, not artillery!’
      Real laugh riot, that guy…

      1. I normally don’t get too wrapped up over celebrities or their deaths…but I really liked RW.

      1. I think he is a Cleveland Brown who doubles as a pallbearer?

        1. And worked on an 8% commission!

      2. Who’s Lou?

        Lou Malnati. He makes the best deep-dish pizza in Chicago. Hell, the best pizza in the world.

        1. Can’t be the best pizza in the world. Deep-dish is not pizza.

          1. You. Son. OF. A BITCH!!! I’LL KILL YOU!!!

  8. BTW, if you’re not familiar with IJ, they have a hell of a track record, and they do so by careful selection of cases and good legal work and good PR.
    The cases they take, they intend to win, not just see a name in the paper.

  9. “Oh but we need government….um because anarchy is chaos and all”

    Tell that to these folks that have had their homes robbed right from under them by the government that’s supposed to make everything “not chaotic”. At least with libertarian anarchy they could have had a chance to defend their property, instead of being under the threat of the arm of the state and standing armies. Oh, but watching the government rob their property wasn’t at all chaotic, I’m sure them and their kids were just fine after the seizure of their home took place. Going down to the court was probably a pleasure….and the forms!!!! Oh my the wonderful forms!!!!

    Do folks really think these same individuals that were subjected to such thievery would pay a business for folks to rob them, and if they resist shoot them?

    With the private production of defense, come competition, choice, and the ability to repel aggression, and also discourage it. A monopoly on defense, and a weak unarmed populace only encourages the “elected leaders in fancy clothes and hats” to agrees against said individuals.

  10. Spelling corrections **comes & aggress***

  11. We caring and loving Democrats are trapped in a system created by Republicans. We really want to reform the system and have been trying to for decades but if you grant us socialist progressives another century we might be able to make a dent in the problems those fucking right-wingers have wrought upon our democracy and continue to through one obstruction after another. Go Barack! And until we get things, you know, modified and reformed we really appreciate your cars, houses, and lost lives in the prisons. Go Democracy!

  12. I keep reading IJ as Islamic Justice.

    1. If only IJ could visit some of that “Islamic Justice” on their petty bureaucratic enemies.

  13. I will keep track on this.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.