John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight tackled civil forfeiture and featured a prominent example from Philadelphia.
Oliver specifically shined a light on Philly’s inordinate use of civil forfeiture, specifically mentioning this summer’s highly publicized struggle between city prosecutors and the Sourovelis family.
The Sourovelis family had their Somerton home seized in connection to their son’s arrest for $40 worth of heroin.
The comedian presented a clip from CNN which detailed that 1,000 houses, 3,290 vehicles and $44 million in cash has been seized by Philadelphia officials over a 10-year period.
“These civil forfeiture laws have warped law enforcement priorities and perception, and nowhere is that more clear than Philadelphia,” Oliver said.
Pennsylvania’s civil forfeiture laws allow prosecutors to seize properties suspected to be involved in illegal activities, even if the owners are not associated with a crime. This is mainly beneficial to police and prosecutors in drug related cases.
Even more surprising than the amount seized is the process Philadelphians must go through to fight the forfeiture of their assets. Those seeking to plead their case to a judge must go to Room 478 in the city courthouse, where they face not a magistrate, but a representative from the District Attorney’s Office.
“Their first step in challenging the police seizing their property was in a courtroom without a judge hearing their case,” Oliver stated. “How can you even still call that a courtroom?”
In August, after months of imploring city prosecutors to release their property, Christos and his wife Markela sued the DA’s office, the city and the Police Department in the hopes that their case can help change the city’s forfeiture laws.