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Criminal Justice Reform Group Celebrates Governor Wolf Altering Asset Forfeiture Laws

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Jenna Moll, the Deputy Director of the Justice Action Network, appeared on The Rich Zeoli Show on Talk Radio 1210 WPHT in support of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signing into a law a bill reforming the commonwealth’s asset forfeiture laws, applauding legislation that streamlines the legal process and puts the burden of proof on government, rather than the accused.

Moll, whose organization consulted with state legislators on the bill, stated it significantly modifies and clarifies the criminal code.

“There were dozens of forfeiture procedures scattered all across the code books of Pennsylvania statutes. There were forfeiture provisions for gambling machines and for fish and for just random property. The first thing that we decided we needed to is collect all of those different forfeiture procedures and put them into one law so that the same procedure applies no matter what the property is. Importantly, while we did that, we flipped the burden of proof. So, right now, in Pennsylvania, if you have your property taken from you by the government, you have to go to court and prove that you and your property are innocent. That’s a really tough thing to do. Under this bill that’s been signed into law, it’s now the burden on the Commonwealth to prove that the property is, in fact, guilty and we’ve raised the burden of proof. They now have to prove that by a clear and convincing evidence standard.”

Moll said citizens will now have an easier time making their case in court that they need to keep property state officials want to confiscate.

“If you have your property taken from you by the government, you’re going to get a chance to go to court and say, I actually need that property back. It’s my personal car. I need it to go to work, go to school, whatever you need it for. You’re going to be able to go to court and say, you’ve got to give it back to me, at least while the case is pending. That’s not a protection that we have right now. This is brand new in this law and Pennsylvania will be one of the very few states that have that provision.”

She believes placing the burden of proof on the government significantly improves how the system will work and removes a potential layer of abuse.

“The process itself is going to be a lot clearer and easier to understand. It’s not going to be a bunch of legalese and mumbojumbo, it’s going to be easier for the average Joe to go into court and say, I want my property back, it’s not fair that you took it. The burden is going to be on the government. Under this bill, if you had your property taken from you by the government, all you’re going to have to do is go into court and say, it’s mine and I want it back. Then the government is going to have to show, just like they do at almost every other time that they make a criminal accusation, they’re going to have to show proof, clear and convincing proof that it was connected to criminal activity.”

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