Michael T. Winters, Partner at McMahon & Winters, Speaks out on Pennsylvania Forfeiture Laws and the Rights of Innocent Owners
McMahon & Winters Law Firm is pleased to share Michael Winters’ comments in the Lancaster Newspaper (11/2/2014 –http://lancasteronline.com/news/turning-crime-into-cash-how-forfeiture-law-works/article_ca12c21c-6111-11e4-90ba-0017a43b2370.html) this month regarding Pennsylvania forfeiture laws and the rights of innocent owners. The comments were in light of an ongoing series of articles on Pennsylvania drug forfeiture law. The law permits county and state officials to seize and retain money or property connected to the commonwealth’s drug laws. The articles report that civil forfeitures are rising, not only in Lancaster County but, across the country, leaving journalists to question whether the process has become a means of law enforcement agencies’ fundraising rather than actual law enforcement.
In some forfeiture cases, Winters, a partner in the Lancaster-based McMahon & Winters Law Firm and a former police officer, said there are many reasons property owners might not try to get their money or other assets back. “Perhaps the person concedes the funds seized were subject to forfeiture under the statute; perhaps it would cost them more to litigate the matter (with no guaranteed outcome) than to simply permit the forfeiture; or, perhaps the forfeiture has been made part of the terms of a plea agreement in a related criminal matter.”
In other cases, the property seized may be the property of an innocent owner. As explained in a blog by Winters on the firm’s website, if an owner can show that they lawfully acquired the seized property; that they did not participate in the unlawful use or possession of the property; and, that the unlawful use or possession of that property was without their knowledge or consent, they should be entitled to have that property returned to them rather than forfeited to the government. He explains further, “Those who defend civil forfeiture argue it is an effective way of stripping assets from drug dealers and of funding enforcement. In the appropriate cases, that is a difficult argument to refute. However, when an innocent owner stands to lose their property due to someone else’s conduct, it is an excessive exercise of power by the Commonwealth and hardly seems justified or constitutional.”
The attorneys at McMahon & Winters Law Firm advocate tenaciously on behalf of their clients, including those facing forfeiture proceedings. In addition, the McMahon & Winters law professionals offer personalized care and legal counsel in the areas of criminal and family law, as well as DUI and traffic violations providing honest and committed representation to each and every client. In Lancaster and the surrounding region, clients have placed their trust in Joe McMahon and Michael Winters to protect their legal rights with professionalism and care.
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