Civil forfeiture of homes in Philadelphia is big business. Each year, the Philadelphia prosecutor’s office and police department split roughly $6 million dollars, money received from selling forfeited property, i.e., cars, homes, etc. Much of those funds pay salaries and drug investigations.
Home owners risk losing their homes because a relative dealt drugs out of the home. For example, a parent may lose their home because a son or daughter sold drugs out of the home. In a civil forfeiture hearing involving a home, the DA simply has to prove a connection between the home and the criminal activity, i.e., drug dealing. Read more about civil forfeitures in drug dealing cases in Philadelphia.
The burden of proof in these civil forfeiture actions is quite low and is the lowest legal burden under the law, the preponderance of the evidence standard. Under this standard, the DA only has to present enough evidence showing that it is more likely than not that drugs were stored or sold out of the home. Compared to the beyond a reasonable doubt standard, the preponderance of the evidence standard is like a cakewalk.
The Innocent Owner Defense in Forfeiture Actions Involving Alleged Drug Homes
Once the DA proves the initial connection or nexus, the home owner can rebut by arguing they were innocent. This is the innocent owner defense which requires proving the following (as laid out in 42 Pa. C.S. Section 6802(j)):
(1) The claimant is the owner of the home.
(2) The claimant legally obtained the home.
(3) The home was not illegally used or illegally possessed by the claimant.
In addition, the law also indicates that in cases where another person conducted the illegal activity (drug dealing), the claimant must show that they had no knowledge of the activity and did not consent to it, as supported by the circumstances. This basically means that in a case where a relative sold drugs out of the home, the owner must not have known about it, and the circumstances must support that lack of knowledge.
For example, a parent will have a hard time arguing lack of knowledge of the drug dealing if the drug dealing continued for years and in plain view, i.e., the relative conducted transactions in front of others in the house.
The key is having sufficient, reasonable evidence to support lack of knowledge. For example, a parent will have a better chance of arguing the innocent owner defense in a case where a college student comes home for the summer and deals drugs out of the home. It will be crucial to call credible witnesses and present other types of evidence, such as pictures of the home at various periods showing the lack of drug paraphernalia around the house.
Criminal Drug Charge Lawyer in Philadelphia
If you or a loved one is facing drug charges in Philadelphia, please call our office for a free case review. (215) 564-0644
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