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    PA Drugs & Controlled Substance Forfeiture Cases – Recent Decision Affords More Protection for Homeowners

    In Pennsylvania, pursuant to forfeiture statutes, if you are selling drugs from your home, you could lose your home. The result may be the same even if someone else, other than the homeowner, is selling drugs from the home.  Forfeiture does not only include homes, it also includes cars, money or other property.

    Section 6801(a)(6)(ii) of Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substances Forfeiture Act states:

     No property shall be forfeited under this paragraph, to the extent of the interest of an owner, by reason of any act or omission established by the owner to have been committed or omitted without the knowledge or consent of that owner. Such money and negotiable instruments found in close proximity to controlled substances possessed in violation of The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act shall be rebuttably presumed to be proceeds derived from the selling of a controlled substance in violation of The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.

    Thus, if property owners did not have knowledge or did not consent to the drug dealing, their property may not be subject to forfeiture.  Click here to learn more about PA’s Controlled Substance Forfeiture Act.

    However, in Pennsylvania, there have been many innocent victims of civil forfeiture.  Because civil forfeiture cases are not criminal proceedings, the burden of proof in civil cases is well below the burden of proof in criminal cases. Historically, in civil forfeiture cases, prosecutors only had to show that it was more likely than not that the homeowner had knowledge or consented to the drug dealing.  This is the preponderance of the evidence standard as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt standard in criminal cases.  In addition, victims may have had their homes confiscated even if they had not been accused or convicted of the underlying crime, i.e., selling drugs.

    Then came a forfeiture case in 2014 involving a woman named Elizabeth Young who is now a 72-year-old grandmother from West Philadelphia.  Young’s house and minivan were seized pursuant to PA’s forfeiture laws after her son was arrested for selling small amounts of marijuana in the home.

    The court established new standards of evidence that the Commonwealth must meet in order to win forfeiture cases.  The decision afforded more protection for innocent property owners in controlled substance forfeiture cases in Pennsylvania.  The court held that the prosecution has to prove that the homeowner was aware and agreed to the illegal activity (emphasis added).

    In addition, the court also found that property seizures may breach the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines if the seizure is “grossly disproportional” to the underlying offense.

    The prosecution appealed the court’s 2014 decision, and late last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

    Criminal Drug Lawyer in Philadelphia

    If you or a loved one is facing forfeiture of property after a drug case in Philadelphia, please call our office for a free case review. David Nenner is an accomplished criminal defense lawyer with extensive trial experience. (215) 564-0644

    Disclaimer: This website does not create any attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. Our lawyers provide legal advice only after accepting a case. It is imperative that any action taken is done on advice of counsel. Read full disclaimer below.

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