District Attorney Slush Funds

Nothing like District Attorney slush funds:

The prosecutors and police officers marveled when Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor six weeks ago piled a table high with $2.7 million in cash confiscated in a gambling arrest.

No one present that day had ever seen such a fortune - perhaps the largest seizure of its kind in state history. It was equal to almost a quarter of Castor's annual budget.

But even more amazing than the windfall itself: Castor can decide how the money is spent without ever telling the public what he did with it.

What a ridiculous, ridiculous stance. District Attorneys from all over Pennsylvania can seize money, and then, despite the fact that they are public officers, running offices with taxpayer funded budgets, they don't have to tell anyone how they are spending chunks of money that can go into the millions.

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A while back, I wrote about asset forfeiture in drug cases in Philly. And while there are some differences between drug forfeiture and non-drug forfeiture, there are some really basic, overall problems with both. (The difference being that for drug cases, there does have to be an accounting of how the money is spent.) The bottom line is that, at least in Philly, the DA's budget is literally dependent on seizing property from every day Philadelphians. In fact, at Penn Law, an entire clinic has developed around representing people in these cases. The incentives, whereby the supposed protector of Philly tries to seize as much as possible, are the definition of peverse.

Any of our long time readers remember this case?

One case that professor Rulli discussed involved a poor, elderly woman from North Philly. The woman was pretty ill- she used paratransit to travel to the Doctor’s office three times a week to spend the entire day hooked up to a dialysis machine. Luckily for the woman, her neighbors really took care of her. In fact, they looked after her to the point where she actually left her door unlocked, so that the neighbors could come in and out, and make sure she was doing O.K. Here is where the fun begins….

Of course, North Philly being North Philly, there were drugs being sold in her neighborhood. And, one day the cops caught people selling drugs outside of the woman’s home. I suppose because they knew the neighborhood, the suspects immediately turned and ran from the cops, straight through the unlocked door, into this woman’s home. The cops arrested them on the spot. And then, despite the fact that the elderly woman did not know the suspects, and despite the fact that they never accused the woman of having anything to do with anything (remember, she is a sick woman on dialysis), they filed a motion to seize her home. (Here is where they are acting like the home has a personality, and therefore should be subject to “punishment,” because the owner clearly did nothing wrong.)

So, the District Attorney, a locally elected official, is going to seize the home of an innocent, sick woman, and sell it at Sheriff Sale? Why, you ask? The answer, besides total stupidity, is money. The DA gets 100 percent of the proceeds of each home it seizes.

It just does not make sense. If we want the DA to have more money we should fund it. We should not rely on asset forfeitures, whether they are officially disclosed or not, to make up for our unwillingness to spend money where we should be spending it. To fund our offices this way, by taking private property, wrecking neighborhoods, etc, is crazy. What is next? Building Casinos to fund public schools? Oh...


This is where my libertarian streak kicks in--The most frightening thing about living in a civil society is overzealousness in both law enforcement and prosecution, the latter being even more scary. Prosecution under the law is a large stigma and throughout time has been used for purposes other than justice (the Star Chamber, Peter Zenger, etc.) (I am a huge loser, I know). The sole motivation should be serving society by fighting crime and ensuring order, not politics or funding.

Funding based upon asset seizures and sales are a recipe for disaster. The incentive necessarily changes from carrying out the law to running an operation to guarantee funding. Personally, I would rather see the proceeds from asset sales go to put more police on the street to help with out hand gun epidemic than and have dedicated funding to the district attorneys office.

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