Philadelphia: US Supreme Court limits state and local authorities’ power to seize property, impose fines

The unanimous ruling in an Indiana case follows years of complaints — including in Philadelphia — about civil forfeiture overreach by law enforcement agencies and courts. It extends to state and local authorities the same limits that apply to federal agencies.

Pennsylvania law allows officials to seize assets they believe were connected to drug activity.

At its height a few years ago, Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture program pulled in $6 million per year and seized thousands of homes and vehicles. While in office, then-District Attorney Seth Williams said state forfeiture laws were effective tools for hindering drug operations.

In 2014, the Institute for Justice sued the city, calling Philadelphia one of the worst examples of civil forfeiture overreach in the country.