By District Attorney Ryan Sayers
2023 Vol. 33
Another question that I regularly get in public and when people call the office is: “do you only handle criminal cases?” The answer to that question is going to take a couple weeks to cover.
As we have discussed before, the District Attorney is the chief law enforcement officer of his/her county and represents the people of the Commonwealth.
The primary purpose of the district attorney is to handle criminal cases, and criminal cases are almost exclusively what the district attorney handles.
However, there are two statutes that give the district attorney authority to handle civil matters.
The first statute is the Controlled Substances Forfeiture Act, which is also known as ‘civil asset forfeiture’.
This statute permits the Attorney General and district attorneys to file civil petitions requesting that that, “money, negotiable instruments, securities, other things of value furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance . . .,” vehicles, and “real property used or intended to be used to facilitate any violation of The Controlled Substances . . . Act,” be forfeited to the Commonwealth.
In other words, instead of giving money or property back to a drug deal/trafficker/user, the Commonwealth can request that the court give that money or property to the district attorney or Attorney General if it can be tied to drug use/possession/dealing/trafficking.
That same statute states what those proceeds can be used for by the district attorney or Attorney General.
Specifically, the money has to be used, “for the enforcement of or prevention of a violation of the provisions of The Controlled Substance . . . Act.”
This means that we as district attorneys and the Attorney General cannot use the funds for just any project, but that we have to tie the use of the money to the drug epidemic (enforcement and/or prevention) in some way.
Here in Clearfield County, when I took office in January of 2020, the drug forfeiture account had a zero balance.
Since taking office, just over $150,000 have been deposited into the drug forfeiture account due to petitions being granted by the court and the Attorney General sharing proceeds from joint cases.
Approximately, $50,000 of those funds have been spent on a drug-testing hood to protect officers from noxious fumes, surveillance equipment for drug operations, trainings for officers/attorneys, testing equipment, supplies for a training range, technology/equipment for use in the courtroom during hearings/trials, partial salary for the county detective due to his work on drug related cases, and supplies for school students.
Next week, I will discuss the other statute that district attorneys have authority under to bring civil lawsuits – the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
Ryan Sayers is the elected District Attorney of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.
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