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More Asset Forfeiture Leads to Greater Systemic Abuse

The state of asset forfeiture in Pennsylvania has garnered national attention in recent months, with even the U.S. Supreme Court hearing a case related to the issue. It is not unusual for law enforcement to seize property as part of their investigations.

However, over the last several years, lawsuits have detailed how police occasionally abuse this power, using it as a means to take property from people who have not actually committed any crimes. The problem has only grown more widespread in recent years as the practice has become more common in Pennsylvania and across the country.

How is asset forfeiture changing?

In 2013, Philadelphia accounted for about 40 percent or more of all asset forfeitures in the state. However, the city now accounts for just 10 percent of all seized assets, as other counties (including Berks County) have significantly ramped up their cash seizures. It’s not that Philadelphia is seizing significantly fewer assets — it’s that totals have skyrocketed in other parts of the state.

Police are taking more assets than ever before, justifying the practice by arguing that the property is coming from “bad guys” to enable them to investigate and arrest more “bad guys.” Counties that are a little tighter on money are more likely to increase their asset forfeiture.

However, when a local government relies on asset forfeiture as a means for funding, it should come as no surprise that the system fosters abuse. The more assets that get taken, the more likely it is that some of the rules regarding asset forfeiture will be skirted. To some, it can feel as though the rules regarding what can and cannot be seized are a bit blurry.

Additionally, because asset forfeiture is a civil proceeding, it does not grant the person whose assets were seized the right to an attorney. It’s therefore quite difficult for them to challenge the seizure.

To learn more about your rights related to asset forfeiture in Pennsylvania, consult knowledgeable Reading criminal defense attorney David R. Eshelman.


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