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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

Standard of Proof

Somewhat higher bar to forfeit: Prosecutors must provide clear and convincing evidence that property is connected to a crime.

Innocent Owner Burden

Stronger protections for the innocent: The government must prove third-party owners knew about criminal activity connected to their property.

Financial Incentive

Large profit incentive: 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.

The letter grade reflects the state’s forfeiture laws as of December 2020. When we become aware of relevant reforms, we are updating the standard of proof, innocent owner burden and financial incentive language above, but we are not updating the letter grade.

Recent Reforms

  • (2017) SB 8: Raised standard of proof; shifted burden of proof from innocent owners to government; imposed modest limits on participation in federal equitable sharing; strengthened transparency requirements; established motion for return of property; instituted modest limits on law enforcement’s use of forfeiture proceeds.

Recommendations

  • End civil forfeiture
  • Direct all forfeiture proceeds to a non-law enforcement fund
  • Fully close the equitable sharing loophole
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability requirements

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019

Between 2002 and 2018, Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $279 million under state law. Between 2000 and 2019, they generated an additional $180 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $459 million in forfeiture revenue. Pennsylvania ranks 38th for its participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. However, in 2017, the state prohibited federal adoption of locally seized property for equitable sharing.

At least $459 million in state and federal forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year Pennsylvania Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 Unknown $4,400,314 $693,000 $5,093,314
2001 Unknown $3,407,745 $786,000 $4,193,745
2002 $11,162,259 $4,573,607 $587,000 $16,322,866
2003 $14,145,571 $4,232,797 $445,000 $18,823,368
2004 $13,493,868 $5,839,157 $90,000 $19,423,025
2005 $15,558,676 $6,251,089 $710,000 $22,519,765
2006 $18,518,507 $6,168,214 $3,238,000 $27,924,721
2007 $15,872,814 $10,381,304 $578,000 $26,832,118
2008 $14,817,592 $8,173,837 $2,217,000 $25,208,429
2009 $19,642,023 $10,497,768 $214,000 $30,353,791
2010 $15,944,081 $9,137,963 $3,803,000 $28,885,044
2011 $16,115,542 $8,785,318 $699,000 $25,599,860
2012 $17,077,226 $10,890,217 $1,138,000 $29,105,443
2013 $17,505,178 $13,438,173 $485,000 $31,428,351
2014 $20,659,627 $10,079,052 $1,494,000 $32,232,679
2015 $18,338,856 $7,815,498 $3,441,000 $29,595,354
2016 $16,986,335 $10,272,762 $526,000 $27,785,097
2017 $17,043,888 $5,147,702 $1,371,000 $23,562,590
2018 $16,500,964 $6,358,805 $1,456,000 $24,315,769
2019 Unavailable $8,134,293 $1,739,000 $9,873,293
Totals $279,383,007 $153,985,615 $25,710,000 $459,078,622

All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation. State reporting requirements changed in 2018.

Pennsylvania's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

C

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

B

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

A

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

D

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

D

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

A

For full transparency and accountability grades, visit www.ij.org/TransparencyReportCards.

Forfeitures Under Pennsylvania Law: Key Facts

Median Value

$369

In 2018, half of Pennsylvania’s currency forfeitures were worth less than $369.

Property Types

In 2018, seven out of every 10 forfeitures in Pennsylvania were of currency

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

Pennsylvania does not report whether forfeitures are processed under civil or criminal forfeiture law.

Expenditures

From 2002 to 2018, Pennsylvania law enforcement spent $172 million from forfeiture funds—30% on personnel, including salaries and overtime.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Forfeiture reports were obtained via public records requests to the Pennsylvania Attorney General. Figures represent fiscal-year forfeitures of cash and proceeds from sales of forfeited property. 2018 also includes other forfeited values, including retained and destroyed property. Equitable sharing data are from DOJ’s and Treasury’s annual forfeiture reports. Due to differences in reporting and accounting practices, state figures may not match aggregate numbers produced by the state or cover the same 12-month period as the federal data.

Legal Sources

Standard of proof: Clear and convincing evidence.

42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5805(j)(3); Commonwealth v. Teeter, No. 59 C.D. 2016, 2017 WL 4945275, at *6 n.14 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Oct. 31, 2017); see also Commonwealth v. 1992 Volkswagen Passat, No. 40 C.D. 2016, 2018 WL 341660, at *9 n.8 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Jan. 10, 2018) (Leavitt, J., dissenting).

Innocent Owner burden: Government.

42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5805(j)(4).

Financial incentive: 100%.

42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5803(f)–(i).

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