No Brotherly Love In Philly (Birthplace Of U.S. Constitution) As City's 'Seize & Seal' Method Of Snatching Homes Out From Under Homeowners Over Minor, Unprosecuted Drug Allegations (w/out Criminal Charges or Convictions) Continues To Draw Light, At Heart Of Recent Federal Lawsuit
- A group of homeowners have asked a federal judge to grant a preliminary injunction against the City of Philadelphia’s practice of seizing homes accused of involvement with drug sales,(1) according to a motion filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Lawyers from the Institute for Justice(2) made the request before District Judge Eduardo Robreno on behalf of a group of clients that began a class action suit against the City of Philadelphia to reclaim alleged damages from the district attorney’s long-standing practice also known as “seize and seal.”
According to the class action suit,(3) Philadelphia has abused the civil forfeiture system to add millions of dollars in revenue to its budget.
“Philadelphia’s program stripped thousands of city residents of over 1,000 residences, 3,200 vehicles, and $44 million in cash over an eleven-year period, ultimately raking in more than $64 million in revenue wholly outside its appropriated budget,” the complaint says.
The claim says the system operates by having the D.A.’s office sue properties, not the owners, in civil actions relating to drug activity. The homeowners are required to come to the court and defend against the allegations, but if the city wins, it keeps the property and sells it.
The named plaintiffs in the class action all stand to lose their homes through the civil forfeiture process, the complaint says. Christos Sourovelis, Doila Welch and Norys Hernandez represent thousands of residents who have been unfairly evicted from their homes with no notice from law enforcement and little recourse to win back their properties, the complaint says.
In all three cases, a family member had been arrested for selling small amounts of marijuana, according to the claim. Philadelphia police officers received authorization from the district attorney’s office and the court to remove all of the occupants and seal the home for civil forfeiture. In the cases of Sourovelis and Welch, they were eventually allowed to re-enter their homes after attending numerous court proceedings and filling out paperwork.
The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief for themselves and all others affected by the city’s use of civil forfeitures, the complaint says.
See also, KYW-TV Channel 3/CBS Philly: Philadelphia Homeowners Try To Stop DA’s Quick Property Seizures ("The practice is called “Seize and Seal,” and it allows the Philadelphia DA’s office to get an order from a judge to seize a home that is linked to alleged drug activity.").
For more on the profit incentive at the heart of civil forfeiture laws that encourages some law enforcement agencies to pursue property, rather than justice, by seizing people's homes, cash, etc. without ever having to bring criminal charges, see:
- Bad Apples or Bad Laws? (Testing the Incentives of Civil Forfeiture),
- Stop and seize (Aggressive police take hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists not charged with crimes),
- 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.") (video - 3:50)
- (U.S./Massachusetts) Judge Smacks Down Feds In Attempt To Swipe Elderly Mom & Pop's Motel Using Forfeiture Law In Connection With Uncharged Drug Crime Allegations,
- (Canada/British Columbia) BC Supremes Rebuke Provincial Director Of Civil Forfeiture For Abuse Of Power For Improperly Seizing One Man's Home, Another's Rare Bank Note Collection.
- Philadelphia's Civil Forfeiture Machine ("Unlike criminal forfeiture, where the government takes someone’s property only after he or she has been convicted of a crime, police and prosecutors can use civil forfeiture to take the cash, cars and homes of people without ever having to convict or even charge the owner with any wrongdoing. This is because civil-forfeiture cases technically are filed against the property rather than its owner, ..."),
- Philadelphia City Paper: The Cash Machine.
(3) Sourovelis v. City of Philadelphia (filed August 11, 2014):