HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Senate today passed legislation on civil asset forfeiture that fails to significantly reform the practice, said the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania in a statement. The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“Civil asset forfeiture is fundamentally unfair. It lets the government take small amounts of cash, vehicles, and even homes from innocent people who don’t have lawyers to defend them in court. In Pennsylvania, forfeiture has been abused to target poor people and people of color. The Senate had a great opportunity to reform the practice, but they punted.
“The language of this bill does not reform asset forfeiture in any real way. The government can still forfeit property from people who have not been convicted of a crime and do not have lawyers, and the agencies that make decisions about forfeiture still directly profit from the practice.
“The only people who benefit from this bill are the prosecutors who will be able to continue to generate millions of dollars through forfeiture.”
When it was introduced by Senator Mike Folmer of Lebanon County, Senate Bill 869 reformed the law on asset forfeiture in impactful ways, including requiring that a property owner be convicted of a crime before their property can be forfeited and redirecting the revenue generated by forfeiture to the general fund of the local jurisdiction. These reforms were jettisoned from the bill when it was amended in committee.
SB 869 now heads to the state House for its consideration.