Amicus brief arguing for affirmance of ruling that the government does not have “common law” power, beyond what is authorized by Pennsylvania’s civil asset forfeiture statutes, to take and keep property used in connection with low-level summary offenses.
Court/Assoc.: Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Attorneys/Firms: Molly Tack-Hooper (ACLU-PA), Sandy Bilus, Patrick Hromisin, Andrew Bollinger (Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP)
On October 16, 2017, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court urging the Court to reject the government’s argument that it has the inherent “common law” power to use civil forfeiture to take and keep property used in connection with any crime — including even low-level summary offenses.
The case arises out of an incident in Adams County in which the Appellee, Justen Irland, allegedly displayed a handgun to another driver who was tailgating him. Irland pled guilty to disorderly conduct as a summary offense, and was ordered to pay a $200 fine. The government also confiscated his gun. Although there is no statute authorizing the government to use civil forfeiture to take property connected to the crime of disorderly conduct, the Adams County District Attorney’s Office argued that it had inherent “common law” authority to use civil forfeiture to take and keep property that law enforcement believes was connected to any crime — even disorderly conduct.
The trial court accepted the government’s “common law” theory of forfeiture and ordered the forfeiture. The Commonwealth Court reversed, explaining that there is no such thing as “common law” forfeiture in Pennsylvania, and that the statutes authorizing civil forfeiture set the bounds of the government’s forfeiture power.