Philadelphia reaches settlement, agrees to change civil forfeiture program

Attorney Darpana Sheth with the Institute for Justice speaks to reporters on Tuesday, Sept. 18. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Attorney Darpana Sheth with the Institute for Justice speaks to reporters on Tuesday, Sept. 18. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Philadelphia has reached a settlement over a long-standing dispute involving its civil forfeiture program.

Critics say the program allows law enforcement to seize assets, such as cash, homes, or cars, from suspects or their families before they’ve even been charged with a crime.

The deal between Philadelphia and a public interest law firm involves limiting when city prosecutors can invoke civil forfeiture and removes the benefit of the money being kept by law enforcement.

“Forfeiture revenue will no longer go back to pad the budget of police and prosecutors, but will now be directed back to communities to be used for drug treatment and prevention programs,” said Darpana Sheth, one of the attorneys on the case for The Institute for Justice.

Chris Sourovelis has lobbied against civil forfeiture because he almost lost his home after his son was arrested with 40 dollars in drugs.

“You got to do it the right way,” he said. “You find the people that’s involved with the wrong stuff and then you put them away.”

The city will also put up to $3 million into a fund for those who have been wronged in previous civil forfeiture as part of the settlement.

“Every single person subjected to this unconstitutional scheme will receive up to 90 dollars as a recognition that their rights were violated,” said Sheth. “All the innocent property owners who were not convicted of anything related to the forfeiture will be eligible to receive up to 100 percent of the property that they lost.”

The deal was worked out after new District Attorney Larry Krasner took office after four years of being tied up in the courts.

Krasner and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney are planning to hold a news conference about the settlement today at 3 p.m.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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