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Pennsylvania earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

  • Low bar to forfeit and no conviction required
  • Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
  • 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

Pennsylvania has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country. Earning a D-, Pennsylvania law only requires law enforcement to tie property to a crime by a preponderance of the evidence in order to forfeit it. Innocent owners are required to prove that they did not participate in, give consent to or have knowledge of the criminal activity with which their property is associated. Worst of all, law enforcement agencies have every incentive to seize: They retain 100 percent of all forfeiture proceeds.

Law enforcement agencies in Philadelphia have taken full advantage of the money-making opportunity afforded by Pennsylvania law. Between 2002 and 2013, forfeiture revenues were equivalent to nearly one-fifth of the Philadelphia district attorney’s budget.

The Keystone State’s forfeiture reporting requirements provide limited transparency. Each county is required to make annual reports of its forfeitures and forfeiture fund expenditures to the attorney general, who aggregates the reports and sends them to the Legislature. However, these reports would be more helpful if they included such features as itemized lists of forfeited assets or breakdowns of civil versus criminal forfeitures. The reports are not available online, forcing interested parties to file a request under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law. Data obtained by the Institute for Justice using a RTKL request indicate that Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies reportedly forfeited more than $152 million between 2000 and 2013, averaging about $10.9 million per fiscal year.

Show State Law Sources
Standard of proof

Preponderance of the evidence.

Commonwealth v. $6,425, 880 A.2d 523, 529–30 & n.6 (Pa. 2005); Commonwealth v. 2314 Tasker St., 67 A.3d 202, 206 nn.8–9 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2013).

Innocent owner burden

Owner.

42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6802(j); Commonwealth v. $6,425, 880 A.2d 523, 530 (Pa. 2005); Commonwealth v. 2314 Tasker St., 67 A.3d 202, 206 n. 9 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2013).

Profit incentive

100 percent.

42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6801(e)–(h).

Reporting requirements

Counties are required to submit annual forfeiture reports to the Office of the Attorney General, which must aggregate the reports and provide them to the Legislature.

42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6801(i)–(j).

Other sources

Philadelphia district attorney budget figures: http://www.phila.gov/investor/CAFR.html

State Forfeiture Data

Reported Forfeiture Proceeds

Year Currency Vehicles Real Property Other Total
2000 $5,521,524 $656,273 $362,518 $103,134 $6,643,449
2001 $5,052,475 $440,521 $460,349 $44,958 $5,998,303
2002 $6,353,097 $818,455 $350,433 $93,250 $7,615,235
2003 $8,016,870 $609,507 $2,178,054 $45,321 $10,849,751
2004 $7,117,420 $901,419 $2,051,150 $224,456 $10,294,444
2005 $9,953,843 $744,491 $1,770,187 $35,587 $12,504,108
2006 $9,987,015 $1,089,929 $2,183,496 $95,689 $13,356,129
2007 $7,757,828 $1,202,026 $2,716,312 $64,046 $11,740,212
2008 $9,393,068 $1,207,816 $1,196,849 $205,040 $12,002,774
2009 $11,965,015 $831,473 $1,999,110 $151,472 $14,947,070
2010 $8,955,802 $887,842 $1,297,060 $145,239 $11,285,943
2011 $10,102,475 $1,108,395 $975,014 $83,871 $12,269,755
2012 $9,508,357 $974,925 $1,099,026 $111,912 $11,694,221
2013 $8,381,972 $832,639 $1,677,598 $82,727 $10,974,936
Total $118,066,759 $12,305,711 $20,317,156 $1,486,703 $152,176,329
Average per year $8,433,340 $878,979 $1,451,225 $106,193 $10,869,738

Source: The Institute for Justice obtained the Office of the Attorney General’s forfeiture reports by filing a Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law request. The data represent fiscal-year forfeitures, including both forfeited cash and proceeds from the sale of forfeited property.

Pennsylvania ranks 41st for federal forfeiture, with nearly $105 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Federal Equitable Sharing

Ranking 41st in the nation on equitable sharing, Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies participated in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program to a much greater extent than did most other states’ agencies. Between 2000 and 2013, Pennsylvania agencies received $104.9 million in equitable sharing proceeds from the DOJ, a calendar-year average of almost $7.5 million. The overwhelming majority of both assets seized and proceeds received—96 percent of both—came from joint task forces and investigations, which former Attorney General Holder’s policy change did little to restrain. Agencies also received nearly $15.5 million in proceeds from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, averaging over $1.1 million per fiscal year.

View Local Law Enforcement Data
YearDOJ
(calendar years)
Treasury
(fiscal years)
2000 $4,524,767 $444,000
2001 $3,407,270 $786,000
2002 $3,098,388 $587,000
2003 $5,586,394 $445,000
2004 $5,115,294 $112,000
2005 $6,402,002 $710,000
2006 $6,952,958 $3,238,000
2007 $9,970,265 $578,000
2008 $9,604,562 $2,217,000
2009 $9,349,668 $214,000
2010 $9,333,625 $3,803,000
2011 $9,955,269 $699,000
2012 $8,130,351 $1,138,000
2013 $13,425,422 $485,000
Total $104,856,235 $15,456,000
Average Per Year $7,489,731 $1,104,000

DOJ Equitable Sharing,
Adoptive vs. Joint, 2000-2013

Adoptions
Joint Task Forces and Investigations
Seizures
Proceeds

DOJ Equitable Sharing Proceeds, 2000-2013

Sources: Institute for Justice analysis of DOJ forfeiture data obtained by FOIA; Treasury Forfeiture Fund Accountability Reports. Data include civil and criminal forfeitures. Because DOJ figures represent calendar years and Treasury figures cover fiscal years, they cannot be added.

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