|DA John Morganelli|
Morganelli is acting under the authority of state law, which allows him to commence civil asset forfeiture actions against the property used in the commission of crime, not the person charged. This has evolved from the common law principle of deodand, under which instruments used to commit crime, as well as the profits, were declared forfeit.
Forfeitures are controversial
Prosecutors have long defended civil forfeiture as one of the tools in their arsenal to deter organized crime. But in Philadelphia, the Institute of Justice filed suit in 2014 when people, many of them with low incomes, were losing homes, bank accounts and cars. A mother whose son dealt from her home could see her home taken away, and often had little or no notice. In 2015, Philadelphia agreed to stop taking homes without providing better notice. In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously ruled that there must be strong evidence showing a home or car was used in a crime and that the owner consented. Governor Tom Wolf also signed a new law that allows parities to retain seized property during the pendency of criminal cases if they can show a hardship.
In Northampton County, DA John Morganelli said that he only brings civil forfeiture actions if there has been a conviction. But the a United States Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a case filed by a convicted Indiana heroin dealer whose $40,000 Land Rover was seized by police after he sold a few hundred dollars worth of heroin. This has been challenged as an "excessive fine" in violation of the Eighth Amendment, especially since the vehicle was purchased with life insurance proceeds, not drug money.
Community Outreach Program
In a July 16 news conference, Morganelli announced plans to use forfeiture proceeds to fund a Community Outreach Program.
First, he wants to meet with the legislative body of every municipality to determine how his office can better serve each community. he has already met Bangor Borough Council and is scheduled to visit Hellertown Borough Council in August. He pointed out that different communities have different needs.
Second, he will be sending a newsletter to county residents to outline the benefits of community block watch groups and explain how to get one started. using drug forfeiture proceeds, he is willing to provide start-up costs. This newsletter will also remind citizens of
National Night Out, scheduled this year for Tuesday, August 7, 2018.
Other Uses of Seized Drug Money
In addition to community outreach programs, forfeitures fund the salary of an assistant District Attorney, training, drug buys, equipment purchases. Since starting the drug forfeiture program, Morganelli's office has seized over $3 million. He credited Assistant District Attorney Julianne Danchak and County Detective Andre Stevens for their work in making the past 12 months a banner year for Northampton County.
Drug Forfeitures over Past Five Years
2013 - $79,831
2014 - $120,544
2015 - $107,802
2016 - $140,290
2017 - $132,000
2018 - $280907