Pennsylvania high court limits civil asset forfeiture

In an important decision the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that to seize property under civil process the state must prove that property played a significant role in crime, and the value seized cannot be disproportionate to the offense [AP/Allentown Morning Call, C.J. Ciaramella/Reason, opinion in car and real estate proceedings involving Elizabeth Young, background Milad Emam, Philadelphia Inquirer 2016 op-ed on Institute for Justice brief] Philadelphia authorities seized Young’s house and minivan after her son sold $90 worth of marijuana on her front porch. Earlier this year I covered a different Pennsylvania intermediate court decision, which also checked the scope of forfeiture law, here.


  • I’m concerned that the court has limited seizures such that they “…cannot be disproportionate to the offense…”. This implies that the seizure is punishment, when in fact it’s simply a means to remove the profitability of an offense and to to seize ill-gotten gains.

    Given that conviction is not generally required for seizures, we must take care to ensure that the police don’t use seizures as a profitable replacement for actual convictions – punishment and all.

  • Funny i am reading at long last “Atlas shrugged” by Ayn Rand, well known. This is exactly how in the first part the dystopian US government portrayed in the book stifles competition and ruins the nation (applied in the book to primary transformation industries and railroad). In France we run an experiment to administer the housing rental market along similar lines (authorization to rent, controlled rents, prohibit short term rentals, protect tenants, tax rental revenues) – we shall see.

  • @PS–
    If it looks like a punishment, walks like a punishment, and quacks like a punishment, it’s a punishment. It has been many decades since forfeiture were limited to the proceeds of illegal acts. I am glad to see a court invoke the Eighth Amendment ban on “excessive fines” to curb an excessive forfeiture.