Philadelphians Save Homes from Civil Forfeiture Machine but Continue Legal Fight Over City’s Unconstitutional Program
PHILADELPHIA—Today, Philadelphia’s Office of the District Attorney agreed to dismiss its civil-forfeiture proceedings against the family homes of Christos Sourovelis and Doila Welch. The dismissals mean that both families will no longer have to worry about losing their homes as they head into the holidays.
Since August, Christos and Doila have been embroiled in a legal battle with the city over its unprecedented use of civil forfeiture to seize the homes and personal property of thousands of Philadelphians without ever charging the owners with a crime. Both Christos and Doila are named plaintiffs in the federal, class-action lawsuit that seeks to end Philadelphia’s shocking system of seizing nearly $6 million in property from its citizens each year and using that money to pad law-enforcement budgets.
Although Christos and Doila’s individual, state-level civil-forfeiture proceedings have been dismissed, they will continue to lead the federal, class-action legal challenge to Philadelphia’s entire civil-forfeiture scheme.
“After months of uncertainty, my family can finally rest easy knowing that our home is our home again,” said Christos. “I’ve lived in Philadelphia for over 30 years. I never thought it was possible for the police to just show up at my doorstep without notice and take my house when I’ve done nothing wrong. But that’s exactly what happened to me and my family—and we’re not alone. That’s why we’re going to keep fighting for everyone still trapped in Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture nightmare.”
“We are pleased that Christos and Doila’s families will be able to enjoy their homes for the holidays,” said Darpana Sheth, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in their challenge to Philadelphia’s program. “Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many other Philadelphia families. Philadelphia law enforcement continues to use its system of robo-forfeitures to pad its budgets with millions in unaccountable funds by stripping innocent people of their rights and property.”
Since the lawsuit challenging Philadelphia’s civil-forfeiture scheme was announced on August 12, the case has garnered national attention and has shed much-needed light on a relatively unknown practice that nets billions every year for law-enforcement agencies nationwide. Philadelphia’s program has received critical coverage from sources ranging from The Wall Street Journal editorial board to Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver, who said that “civil forfeiture laws have warped law enforcement priorities and perception and nowhere is that more clear than in Philadelphia.”
The Institute for Justice is leading the fight against civil forfeiture nationwide. To learn more about this case and IJ’s national efforts, visit endforfeiture.com.