Court seizes mother's home

Imelda Balli will lose her West End home because her sons sold drugs there, according to a ruling last week by a Fulton County judge. The non-jury trial was the first of its kind in the county, and the beginning of District Attorney Paul Howard's plan to take crack houses from their owners, renovate them with state funds and invite a police officer to live there, rent free, for a year. Howard says he hopes to take possession of nine more houses this year.

Georgia law permits the state to seize a home where drugs are being sold, so long as the homeowner is aware of the crime. ?

Balli's attorney, Tom Ford, claims that Balli was unaware of each alleged drug sale as it occurred and that she tried to put an end to her sons' behavior. Over a three-year period, Sinnyasa and Jashobeam Balli — ages 20 and 21 — were suspected of selling crack and cocaine on at least 13 occasions; however, not all of those incidents ended in arrest and only one netted a conviction, according to Ford. ?

And because the drugs seized at the Atwood Street home are worth an estimated $5,000, while the home itself is worth $69,000, Balli is being punished with an unconstitutional, excessive fine, Ford argues. He says he plans to appeal Judge Elizabeth Long's decision.?

"Your taking this woman's home of 15 years," Ford says. "And she's got no culpability. She never committed a crime."

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