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Is a Philadelphia Agency's Seizure of Vehicles a New Form of Civil Asset Forfeiture?

Nov 14, 2018, Ryan Briggs - The Appeal

In November 2017, Iyo Bishop of Philadelphia was arrested on assault charges after a boyfriend, who she said was abusive, accused her of striking him with an SUV. City police picked her up after spotting the vehicle parked on the street weeks later. Bishop maintained her innocence but was cuffed and thrown in a squad car. She then watched in disbelief as an officer hopped in her 2002 Jeep Liberty and drove off.

Although the charges against Bishop were eventually dropped, she never saw her vehicle again. Police sold the Jeep at auction for $1,155 in storage fees they had assessed while the case made its way through the court system.

Philadelphia’s decades-long experiment with civil asset forfeiture—which allows police to seize and then keep or sell property that they allege is involved in a crime even if the owner is not arrested or convicted of a crime—is supposed to be drawing to a close. In September, the city agreed to a $3 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed by people whose cash, cars, and even homes were seized and sold by city police and prosecutors. The city also agreed to a raft of reforms, including toughening the standards for confiscation, which barred police from seizing assets for simple drug possession.

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