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Supreme Court Property Forfeiture Ruling Not Expected to Affect Pennsylvania

A February decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on a drug distribution case in Indiana will apparently not affect the methods used by police and district attorneys in Pennsylvania when it comes to property forfeitures of defendants in criminal cases.

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in Timbs v. Indiana, finding that the Eighth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution protect Americans from “excessive fines” from the states in criminal cases, including property seizures and forfeitures from drug dealers. After the ruling, the state of Indiana was required to return a vehicle seizure worth $42,000 to a man who was arrested and convicted of selling $400 worth of heroin. The man had purchased the vehicle with money from a life insurance payout after the death of a family member.

Effect on Pennsylvania

Local officials say this ruling should not affect property seizures and forfeitures in our state, as Pennsylvania’s state Supreme Court already ruled the excessive fines clause found in the Eighth Amendment applies to the state’s own laws in 2017. The state legislature also passed its own revised civil asset forfeiture law in 2017, prohibiting police from seizing any items they hope to be profitable when making criminal arrests.

Forfeited property is typically auctioned off by local police departments, with the proceeds going to special drug forfeiture funds. The York County district attorney says police in that county may only seize what is allowed under the law, and that judges — not police officers — have the final say on whether seized property should be forfeited.

For more information on property forfeiture laws and how you can protect yourself against unreasonable searches and seizures, consult experienced Reading criminal defense attorney David R. Eshelman.


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