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PA Supreme Court: Nearby Drugs Not Enough Reason to Seize Cash

In a December decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors who attempt to seize money as profits of selling illegal drugs must do more than simply demonstrate the cash and drugs were located in the same place.

The case involved a New Jersey man who claimed to have hidden $34,440 from a personal injury settlement inside a friend’s vehicle after he withdrew the cash to show off to his friends. He had lost that money in a civil action after his friend’s brother borrowed the vehicle and was stopped by police for tailgating. An investigation of the vehicle revealed there was a small amount of ecstasy and marijuana inside of it.

The case resulted in a 4-3 decision by the Supreme Court, which ruled the owner of the money who was being targeted for seizure was not required to prove lawful ownership of that money to overcome the presumption under the state Forfeiture Act that cash found near drugs is the result of criminal activity. The Supreme Court concluded that judges handling cases involving such claims must look at all the circumstances and decide for themselves whether any property or money was tied to illegal drug activity.

Impact of the decision

According to an attorney from the Pennsylvania branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, the decision by the state’s Supreme Court will shift the burden from property owners to prosecutors, leading to a higher burden of proof in drug possession cases. This may protect defendants from potentially unjust accusations or outcomes.

For more information on the effect this case could have on criminal law in the state, speak with trusted Reading criminal defense attorney David R. Eshelman.


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