Last year, IJ secured a landmark consent decree that dismantled Philadelphia’s forfeiture machine. After four years of litigation, the city agreed to end “policing for profit,” fundamentally reform its practices to ensure due process, and establish a $3 million fund to compensate forfeiture victims.
Before IJ intervened, Philadelphia used civil forfeiture to strip thousands of individuals of their rights and property, regardless of whether they had been convicted of—or even charged with—a crime. The city forfeited millions of dollars each year, sending residents to a “courtroom” run exclusively by city prosecutors who were permitted to keep all the cash and property they forfeited. Owners who asked if they needed a lawyer were frequently told that one wasn’t necessary, only to then be given a stack of complicated legal documents they had to fill out under oath. They were then asked to return to the “courtroom” for further questioning—up to 10 or more times in some cases. If they missed a single appearance, they lost their property.
In the months since IJ’s victory, thousands of victims of civil forfeiture in Philadelphia have submitted claims against the city’s restitution fund. Everyone who lost property through the city’s abusive practices is entitled to a cash settlement, and those who were not convicted in any criminal case associated with their forfeiture are entitled to receive up to the full cash value of the forfeited property.
Claims must be submitted by December 6, 2019, and IJ is spearheading an aggressive outreach campaign to ensure that all property owners who are entitled to restitution have an opportunity to reclaim some or all of their property and finally receive justice. Awards to victims will be finalized in April 2020.