The Use and Abuse of Civil Forfeiture

Sarah Stillman, The Use and Abuse of Civil Forfeiture. The New Yorker, 12 August 2013. “Under civil forfeiture, [US people] who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars and even homes.

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The Cash Machine: Civil Asset Forfeiture in Philadelphia

Isaiah Thompson, The Cash Machine. Philadelphia City Paper, 28 November 2012. An investigation by City Paper, assisted by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, into the Philadelphia District Attorney’s civil asset forfeiture process reveals one of the largest American municipal-forfeiture programs for which City Paper has seen statistics, and one that operates with great efficiency largely by allowing questions of guilt, innocence or whether a crime has even been alleged to come last, if at all. 

While the District Attorney’s Office files hundreds of cases each year seeking the forfeiture of real estate, this process is in many ways separate and distinct from the thousands of cases it files against seized currency or cash. It is the latter that brings in the bulk of forfeiture revenue — about $4.5 million — and City Paper focused primarily on currency forfeitures for this story.

CP analyzed records for thousands of forfeiture cases, spent weeks monitoring legal proceedings and spoke with many individuals caught up in the process of attempting to reclaim their property. The picture that emerged was a kind of “seize first, ask questions later” policy in forfeiting individuals’ money. You might think of it as a corollary to the better-known (and controversial) policy of “stop and frisk” that exists here and in other cities. Call it “stop and seize,” a legal dragnet that catches the innocent, guilty and unaccused alike.”

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