Today, the U.S. Justice Action Network, the largest bipartisan organization working to reform the justice system in Pennsylvania and around the country, thanks the Pennsylvania legislature for protecting due process and upholding property rights by passing the first step towards badly needed civil asset forfeiture reforms. Today’s unanimous vote in the the House sends Governor Tom Wolf legislation that would transform and update current forfeiture statutes.
With the Governor’s signature, Senate Bill 8 will move Pennsylvania to a more effective forfeiture system by providing more protections for property owners, and increasing the burden of proof placed on the Commonwealth when they seek to forfeit property. The new law will also provide procedures for Pennsylvanians to get their property back pre-forfeiture when its loss would prove a hardship and provide a new avenue for those acquitted of crimes to fast-track the return of their property. The legislation follows a decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court earlier this month that narrowed the scope of civil forfeiture and created a better legal test to determine whether forfeiture is unconstitutionally disproportionate.
Holly Harris, Executive Director, U.S. Justice Action Network: “With a strong bipartisan vote, lawmakers in Pennsylvania took the first step in reforming their civil asset forfeiture laws, protecting property rights, and reinvigorating the presumption of innocence in Pennsylvania. Senate Bill 8 is not a complete solution, but it is a significant step forward supported by Republicans, Democrats, and the law enforcement community to begin restoring Pennsylvanians’ constitutional rights.
“Senator Mike Folmer has tirelessly worked to ensure that his colleagues in the legislature prioritized this issue, and Pennsylvania voters know why righting this wrong is so important. Recent polling showed 84% of Pennsylvania voters, including 80% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats, believe it is time for civil asset forfeiture reforms. We also thank Senator Joe Scarnati, Chairmen Greenleaf and Marsico, and Representative Jim Cox for their longtime support for changing Pennsylvania’s antiquated law. We urge Governor Wolf to swiftly sign this bill into law.
“Pennsylvania’s work to reform their criminal justice system is a shining example of continuous, bipartisan collaboration, beginning with the first round of Justice Reinvestment legislation enacted in 2012. Just this year, USJAN stood with Governor Wolf as he unveiled his executive action to “ban the box” for criminal history checks for Pennsylvania job applicants, and Senator Scott Wagner, Senator Anthony Williams, Representative Sheryl Delozier, and Representative Jordan Harris unveiled groundbreaking bipartisan “clean slate” legislation. And in the coming months, the next round of Justice Reinvestment reforms will be unveiled. These annual improvements will ensure that Pennsylvania communities grow safer and stronger every year.”