Each year, Philadelphia cops take millions of dollars in cash from city residents under the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws. Roughly one-third of these residents — 1,500 of them — are never convicted of a crime. And much of their money — about $2.2 million a year — goes directly into the coffers of the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, which oversees the forfeiture process.
Those are the conclusions of a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union about forfeiture in the city of brotherly love. Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement officers to take cash and property from people they suspect of a crime. Because it happens under civil law, cash and items can be confiscated without a criminal conviction, or even a criminal charge. And the standards of evidence are less favorable to defendants in civil courts, making it very difficult to get your stuff back once it’s been taken.
Asset forfeiture laws initially took wing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at the height of the drug war. They were conceived as a tool to fight big-time drug kingpins and mob leaders: If you couldn’t make criminal charges stick to a Pablo Escobar-type, at least you could take millions of dollars of proceeds from his drug business.
But the reality of asset forfeiture today is far different, as the ACLU report shows. The group analyzed a random sample of 351 cash forfeitures out of the thousands Philadelphia performed in 2012 and 2013. They found that the typical cash forfeiture wasn’t in the millions of dollars, or even in the thousands: Rather, the median amount seized was $192.
Full Story @ [Washington Post]