Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform to be Refiled
2022-11-10 Business Update - Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill to be Refiled
Douglas Quattrochi - Doug
Our business update for today is about a Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill, which actually got passed by the Senate last session and which MassLandlords is preparing to refile for next year.
In case you haven’t heard, all bills that will be heard over the next two years in Massachusetts have to be filed by the end of January, so that’s why we’re working to get all of our bills together, and one of them that we’re going to be filing is one that we actually did file and that passed last session in the Senate by a vote of 31-9. This is an Act Relative to Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform.
The way this works is in Massachusetts, as in many other states, the police have the power to seize personal property if they suspect that it’s being used in a crime even if the owner has not been accused of any wrongdoing. So imagine you lend your car to someone or someone is carrying cash that’s headed for you or something like that, and they are arrested or stopped for some other reason. It’s not the fact that you’ve been implicated in any crime, but your property was involved in it, so the police can take it.
This happened in Massachusetts most famously with the Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, a case that was so unfair the Institute for Justice actually got involved and helped this owner to defend against a complaint that basically they were turning a blind eye to drug use in their property. Even though they weren’t selling or actually facilitating the sale of drugs in the property, this owner nearly lost their motel until the Institute for Justice got involved, nearly lost everything.
In Massachusetts, we’ve actually studied this. There has been a special commission. The trial courts have data on it, and by and large, what the police were taking is jewelry, cars, and cash, and if you look at the amount of cash taken, they’re basically taking a rent cheque, so renters who are implicated or involved or suspected of something criminal or illegal, they can lose whatever property they have on them at the time—cash, jewelry, their car, whatever it is.
The bill we filed will make three main changes.
First of all, we’d raise the standard which in Massachusetts is currently probable cause to a much higher standard shared among almost the other states. Preponderance of the evidence, so now the police can’t take cash or jewelry or the rent money unless there’s preponderance of the evidence that that money is implicated in the crime.
The second change is that the money doesn’t go directly to department budgets, which is where it goes presently, so there’s kind of a broken incentive for police to seize assets because they get to dispose of those assets. Instead, under our bill, the assets will go to a state fund, and instead of there being no attorney for our renters and even owners to get help to get those assets back, the assets seized would be used to pay for a right to counsel for civil asset forfeiture.
This is a really important bill. It has implications for property rights. It has implications for our renters and our businesses.
We just want to thank our property rights supporters who make this possible and will enable us to file this and many other bills this coming January.