Consequences of Drug Trafficking Offenses: Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substance Forfeiture Act

Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article regarding the draconian forfeiture policies of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.[1] The Sourovelis’ told the story of their son, who was caught selling just $40 of drugs outside the home he shared with his parents. Even after the crime and punishment had concluded, and even after their son began rehabilitation towards a new start, the Sourovelis were in for another shocking surprise: their family home was subject to civil forfeiture. Despite no evidence to show the Sourovelis knew or suspected anything about their sons’ misdeeds, they may lose their homes over their son’s sale of drugs.

Anyone charged or convicted of a drug trafficking offense in Pennsylvania may be subject to forfeiture of a variety of property. An acquittal, dismissal or admission into diversionary programs does not necessarily preclude the District Attorney’s Office from commencing forfeiture proceedings. Additionally, those who have knowledge of drug trafficking within the confines of their homes or vehicles may have to forfeit this personal property. In a forfeiture proceeding, the District Attorney must prove a sufficient “nexus” exists between the property seized and the illegal drug trafficking offense. Mere circumstantial evidence can be sufficient to prove this nexus exists. The District Attorney also has the burden of proof to show that items seized and forfeited are “more likely than not” associated with drug trafficking. Not only is this burden less than that of a criminal trial’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, it does not afford all the same rights and protections of the criminal trial itself.

Once drugs and contraband are seized as a result of a drug trafficking charge or conviction, these items are unquestionably non-returnable. This includes manufacturing equipment and paraphernalia. However, if the District Attorney believes other property is associated with the commission or facilitation of a drug trafficking offense, they may seek forfeiture of any and all legally owned firearms, money (loose or bundled), ledgers, books, motor vehicles, and even real estate.[2] This may include less-thought of items such as cellular phones, cameras, bank accounts and even children’s property. Just as in the Sourovelis’ case, anyone engaged in the commission or facilitation of drug trafficking may cause others to lose family homes, regardless of the quantity or type of drugs involved.

Originally intended to protect against violent drug traffickers, whose homes and vehicles were plagued with illegal drugs, guns and paraphernalia, the power and harshness of Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substance Forfeiture Act cannot be underestimated. If you have been charged with a drug trafficking offense and are concerned with forfeiture of property which may not be related to the crime at hand, be sure to consult with an attorney.

Legal Disclaimer: This post is not to be construed as giving legal advice by any member of Skinner Law Firm. LLC, nor it is intended to form an attorney-client relationship.  All information is solely informative.

[2] 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6801, et seq.

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