Freedom Flix

The Forfeiture Machine Turns Cops into Robbers

 

 

The most terrifying place in Philadelphia is Courtroom 478 in City Hall. This is where property owners enter Philadelphia’s Civil Forfeiture Machine. Civil forfeiture is a little-known legal device that allows law enforcement officials to take your property, sell it and pocket the proceeds—even if you have done nothing wrong.

Philadelphia’s automated, machine-like forfeiture scheme is unprecedented in size. From 2002 to 2012, Philadelphia took in over $64 million in forfeiture funds—or almost $6 million per year. In 2011 alone, the city’s prosecutors filed 6,560 forfeiture petitions to take cash, cars, homes and other property. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office used over $25 million of that $64 million to pay salaries, including the salaries of the very prosecutors who brought the forfeiture actions. This is almost twice as much as what all other Pennsylvania counties spent on salaries combined.

This is how the city’s forfeiture machine works: Property owners who have their cash, cars or homes seized must go to Courtroom 478. But Courtroom 478 isn’t a courtroom at all: there is no judge or jury, just a scheduler and the prosecutors who run the show. Owners who ask for a lawyer are frequently told their case isn’t complicated and a lawyer isn’t necessary, but are then given a stack of complicated legal documents to fill out under oath. Time and time again, property owners must return to Courtroom 478—up to ten or more times in some cases. If they miss a single appearance, they can lose their property forever.

Philadelphia’s forfeiture machine stacks the deck against property owners and leads city officials to police for profit instead of justice. To end these unconscionable and unconstitutional practices, the Institute for Justice and a group of property owners have brought a major, class-action lawsuit in federal court. The lawsuit will take the profit incentive out of civil forfeiture and protect innocent people who are caught in an upside-down legal process that treats them like cash machines while violating their constitutional rights.

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Freedom Flix

The Institute for Justice is always looking for new ways to promote the message of freedom. To that end, IJ produced the following videos in-house to tell the stories of our clients and their fight for individual liberty.

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   The Forfeiture Machine Turns Cops into Robbers (3:50)
The most terrifying place in Philadelphia is Courtroom 478 in City Hall. This is where property owners enter Philadelphia’s Civil Forfeiture Machine.
   The Fight for Braiding Freedom (5:35)
Since the advent of hair braiding more than 5,000 years ago, it has been a simple and safe practice that government has no business regulating. African-style hair braiding uses no dyes or chemicals, and it is safe for braiders to perform.
   Food Trucks and Carts Are Just as Clean as Restaurants (1:07)
Research compares food-safety inspection scores of food trucks, food carts and restaurants in seven major American cities—and finds that street eats are safe eats. www.ij.org/vending
   Licensed Dentist Attacked for Charging Too Little (2:23)
When is it illegal for a licensed dentist in Arkansas to clean teeth? When he also happens to be a licensed orthodontist.
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New Jersey’s CRDA is trying to use eminent domain to seize Charlie Birnbaum's property as part of a “mixed-use development” project. The trouble is that CRDA has no concrete plans to do anything in particular with it.
   Gov't to Citizens: Want Free Speech? Take a number. (1:15)
Can the gov't pass a law saying that only the first 12 people to vote in an election get to vote for every office, or that only the first 12 people who arrive at church get to stay for the entire sermon?
   Ariz. Supreme Court Declares Edu. Choice Program Constitutional (2:04)
The Arizona Supreme Court announced today that it will not review a unanimous Court of Appeals' decision that declared Arizona's Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program passes constitutional muster.
   Gov't Says "Naaayyyy" to Horse Massage (1:59)
The Ariz. State Veterinary Medical Examining Board wants to throw entrepreneurs who massage animals without a veterinary license into jail and fine them $3,500 per violation.
   Let Kids Escape Failing North Carolina Schools (3:09)
IJ has intervened to defend North Carolina's Opportunity Scholarship Program for low income parents like Cynthia Perry.
   The Top 6 Craziest Things Cops Spent Forfeiture Money On (1:07)
Under civil asset forfeiture, police can seize property suspected of involvement in criminal activity.
   Behind the Scenes of the Caswell Forfeiture Victory (5:58)
Last January, a federal court in Massachusetts dismissed a civil forfeiture action against the Motel Caswell, a family-run motel in Tewksbury, handing a complete victory to owners Russell and Patricia Caswell.
   Little American Dream Factory: Chicago Bureaucrats Put the Brakes on an Innovative Business (5:02)
The story of Zina Murray, her innovative business, and how Chicago killed it along with the dreams of fifteen other entrepreneurs.
   City Forces Homeowners to Destroy Veggie Garden (0:51)
May the government prohibit you from peacefully and productively using your own property to feed your family?
   Raw Deal: Raw Milk Farmers Fight Censorship (3:15)
In Oregon, it is perfectly legal for farmers to sell raw—or unpasteurized—milk...so long as they don’t talk about it. If they do, they face huge fines and jail time.
   Half-baked: Gov't Restricts Homemade Cookie Sales (1:56)
Can the government arbitrarily restrict where home-baking entrepreneurs can sell their treats or how much they can sell?
   Terms of Engagement: More Constitution Less Government (1:39)
The Constitution was designed to limit government power and protect individuals from the tyranny of majorities and interest-group politics. But those protections are meaningless without judges who are fully committed to enforcing them, and America's judge
   Handcuffed hairbraider sues in federal court for right to teach (2:41)
Braiders Aren't Barbers: African Hairbraider Takes Texas to Federal Court Over Economic Liberty.
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Government bullies are taking the little guy's milk money.
   Gov’t Forces Businesses to Overcharge Customers (1:44)
It shouldn’t be illegal for businesses to give their customers a better deal.
   Sacramento's Sign Police vs. The First Amendment and Got Muscle Health Club (2:11)
The City of Sacramento bans businesses from using sandwich boards, banners and other portable signs and is now enforcing its ban against the owners of a small independent gym, Carl and Elizabeth Fears.

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