The Commonwealth Court has remanded the civil forfeiture case of a Philadelphia woman’s home and vehicle in a ruling that tightens the prerequisites for the seizure of property in relation to a criminal case.

In a 5-2 decision, the court reversed and remanded the forfeiture against Elizabeth Young, whose son, Donald Graham, was arrested after participating in three marijuana sales set up by the police. In challenging the forfeiture, Ms. Young argued that she did not know her son was selling drugs, even after police searched her home, because she was never given proof of any such behavior, the Commonwealth Court opinion said.

The court rearticulated the Eighth Amendment requirements for civil forfeiture and effectively abandoned its 2010 opinion in Commonwealth v. 542 Ontario Street, which affirmed an excessive fines analysis that considered conduct of the landowner in a forfeiture case, even when the landowner was acquitted.

Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt said the trial court's ruling should be reversed because it did not correctly analyze the gravity of the offense, it did not consider whether Ms. Young’s house and vehicle were an instrument of the offense, and it did not consider her culpability for her son's violation of the Drug Act.

"The opinion really clarifies what the Eighth Amendment analysis requires," said Jessica M. Anthony, a Ballard Spahr attorney who represented Ms. Young along with Jason A. Leckerman and Lisa B. Swaminathan of the same firm.

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