Pennsylvania law allows county district attorneys' offices to pursue property believed to be connected to crime in a process known as "civil asset forfeiture." In Pennsylvania, as is true in many other states and federally, this civil process is separate and distinct from any related criminal charges. An investigation by City Paper shows that the Philadelphia District Attorney pursues forfeiture cases aggressively and with little regard to the criminal process.
The graphic below depicts the timelines of some of the several hundred cases we selected by random sample for analysis, ordered by date filed. As shown, civil asset forfeiture cases usually begin and end long before criminal charges are resolved; and while some of those criminal charges result in a finding of guilt, some also result in a finding of not guilty, or in the withdrawal of charges. The D.A. wins almost all of these civil cases, most of them by default, when a "respondent" fails to show up on the case's first listing. In some cases, however, civil cases drag on long after criminal cases have ended, even if the respondent wasn't found guilty. In some cases, the property's owner is never charged criminally in the first place. The D.A. will ultimately be granted forfeiture in more than 90% of all cases; this was true for all of the cases below. This data was collected manually, by comparing physical and digital court records for civil and criminal cases respectively.
Read the full story in City Paper.