In a big win for the little people, Philadelphia last week agreed to rein in its civil-forfeiture program and pay $3 million to innocents whose property it wrongly confiscated.
Attorneys with the Institute for Justice sued in 2014 over policies that let law enforcement take property “suspected” of being tied to crime — even when the owner clearly wasn’t part of the crime.
The lead plaintiffs were Markela and Chris Sourovelis, whose home was seized after their son was busted for selling $40 worth of drugs outside it. Neither parent ever did anything wrong. In fact, they were driving their son to a court-ordered rehab program the day the police took their home.
From 2002 to 2014, Philadelphia’s forfeiture machine pulled in over $72 million, vs. $102 million for the state’s 66 other counties.
The city agreed to put new limits on seizures, hold faster hearings for challenges and impose judicial oversight earlier in the process. And to stop sending the proceeds to the DA’s Office and Police Department. (Forfeitures covered more than a fifth of the budget for the DA’s Office as it seized 300-plus homes and other properties each year.)