PA Supreme Court Could Limit Civil Asset Forfeiture
Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial government power in Pennsylvania. Under state law, the police are allowed to confiscated property that is in some way tied to illegal activity. While the purpose of civil asset forfeiture is to remove money and property from the hands of criminals and criminal organizations, many individuals believe the police take advantage of the law because the money and funds from the sale of confiscated property go to law enforcement and the district attorney’s office. However, reform may come soon in the form of a decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
In the case of Commonwealth v. $34,440 U.S. Currency, the court will review when the substantial nexus between property and the sale of drugs can be overcome. As of right now, it is difficult to retrieve your property or money once it has been taken by the police.
If your money, vehicle or home has been seized, contact a Pittsburgh criminal lawyer of Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at (412) 281-2146 immediately. You need an aggressive criminal defense attorney to represent you in this case and to fight for you to win your property back.
Pennsylvania’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Law
You do not have to be charged or convicted of a crime to lose money or property through civil asset forfeiture in Pennsylvania. The police can confiscate money they find at the scene of an alleged crime, including cash you have on hand when you are pulled over during a traffic stop. The police can also take your vehicle for an alleged crime that took place inside, such as if they believe someone possessed or sold drugs from the car. Additionally, you can lose your home if the police suspect criminal activity took place there.
When your cash is seized or your property forfeited, a civil case is created against the actual money or property. You are not a defendant in a criminal case, which means you do not have the same Constitutional protections. During the civil case, the district attorney must show only by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was linked to a crime. The burden then shifts to you to prove that you did not participate in the crime, consent to the criminal activity or have any knowledge of the criminal activity.
Asset Forfeiture Under Review by Pennsylvania Supreme Court
On October 13, the justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed that they would hear arguments for the case of Commonwealth V. $34,440 U.S. Currency. This case arose after the police seized cash belonging to Rafael Falette when he and another individual were pulled over for tailgating in Monroe County. Falette testified in court that he was an innocent owner of the cash because it was awarded to him through a personal injury settlement. He stated he brought it to show off to his friends and it was not connected to the drugs found in the vehicle at the same time. The trial court did not believe his testimony and approved the seizure. The appellate court agreed with the trial court’s initial findings, that the proximity of the cash to the drugs in the car proved a substantial nexus between the money and criminal activity.
Now that Falette’s case has moved to the Supreme Court, there is the potential that the court could rule in his favor, effectively limiting future civil asset forfeiture. The court will determine if a substantial nexus can be overcome without the property owner proving he or she is an innocent owner. If the court agrees that it can, then this gives you and other owners a stronger chance in court in defending against a forfeiture.
Additionally, the justices will determine if a lack of evidence linking seized cash to the sale of drugs is enough to make the seizure invalid. If the court rules the district attorney must demonstrate a stronger connection than mere proximity, this can greatly limit when cash is lawfully seized in the future.
Contact a Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer for Help
Even though asset forfeiture is technically a civil matter, you need an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney to defend your rights in court. Asset forfeiture is closely linked to criminal matters and while you are not on trial for a crime, you effectively need to prove your innocence. Contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at (412) 281-2146 to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help.