Woman who lost house to forfeiture in son's weed charge may see it returned – The Cannabist
Published: May 26, 2017, 9:34 am • Updated: May 26, 2017, 3:17 pm
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s highest court on Thursday reined in the power of prosecutors to seize people’s property through civil actions.
The justices ruled unanimously that prosecutors must prove a property played a significant role in committing a crime, and its value must be proportionate to the offense.
The decision gave new life to a 72-year-old woman’s legal quest to regain a used minivan and $54,000 west Philadelphia home she argues were unfairly taken after her adult son was investigated for selling small amounts of marijuana.
“I think it’s a really big change — I think it makes it much harder for the commonwealth to take people’s property without going through a much more detailed and much more comprehensive analysis,” said attorney Jessica Anthony, lawyer for property owner Elizabeth Young.
The Philadelphia district attorney’s office issued a statement that characterized the ruling as a clarification. It said prosecutors retain the right to seek civil forfeiture of property linked to illegal drug activity in what it called “appropriate cases.”
Rich Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said the 73-page ruling was still being reviewed and that it was too soon to say “how it really is going to play out in the real world.”
Long said prosecutors in many parts of the state routinely consider such factors as proportionality when pursuing civil forfeiture.
The court decision noted the attorney general’s office warned of a “likely increase in the number of sham or strawman owners in forfeiture cases” if a lower-court decision in Young’s favor was upheld.
The decision said it is not constitutional for the government to take a property if its value is grossly disproportionate to