As Liberty & Law readers know, when it comes to civil forfeiture, transparency is both vitally important and too often lacking. IJ client Carter Walker, a reporter, has been working for years to increase that transparency in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In February, IJ won a total victory for Carter at Pennsylvania’s intermediate appellate court—a victory that will prevent Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies from shielding forfeiture records from public scrutiny.
In 2018, Carter submitted requests under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law to find out what the local district attorney’s office does with forfeited property and how it spends the proceeds. The district attorney resisted. Over the course of a lengthy battle in court, IJ won most of the requested records. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court finally put an end to the DA’s recalcitrance and handed Carter and IJ a complete victory. The court held that the DA’s office must release the names of bidders on forfeited property at public auctions, important information that can expose corrupt self-dealing.
IJ’s own research shows just how badly such scrutiny is needed in Pennsylvania. Our latest edition of Policing for Profit reveals that Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies have brought in at least $459 million in forfeiture revenue over the past 20 years. And thanks to Does Forfeiture Work?, we know that such extensive use of forfeiture does not actually help combat crime. IJ’s victory will enable Carter, and other Pennsylvania reporters, to continue the vital work of shining a light on civil forfeiture.