Civil Asset Forfeiture


This reform proposal seeks to bring accountability and transparency to Massachusetts’ civil asset reform law while maintaining law enforcement’s rights to seize property and money obtained or used illegally. Read an article about the bill.

Supported by Staff
MassLandlords staff drafted or participated materially in the creation of bill text below. Members will be polled at the next update of the policy priorities survey.

Bill Text May Change
The legislative process involves many changes to most bills. Our goal with bill explainers like this is to communicate core concepts assuming final wording is beyond our control. If you feel we missed or misunderstood a core concept about this bill, please contribute to this explainer by emailing or by using the support widget on this page. Pointing out typos or poor drafting is appreciated on green bills (we wrote or support).

Legislative History

The text below passed the Senate by a vote of 31 to 9 in the 192nd session (summer 2022). The bill was 192 S2988.

Forfeiture FAQ

Does this bill hurt our ability to police?

No, this bill does not impede law enforcement, nor does it defund the police. Police can still seize assets if there is a preponderance of the evidence. The standard in this bill is higher than presently, which is "probable cause." This ensures that assets are not taken from innocent people.

If a criminal is convicted in a court of law, their assets may still be forfeit under criminal asset forfeiture law.

Does this bill let criminals keep their property?

No, in Massachusetts property can be seized from innocent people by the police if the police suspect the property will be used for drugs. If there are actually illegal drugs present, then the police can charge and arrest. This bill fixes situations where there is no charge and no arrest because the owner is not a criminal.

How does this impact landlords

A 2019 study by the Massachusetts Trial Court found that the most common asset forfeited was cash. This is our rent money! We have had members forced to sell. The most famous case is that of the Tewksbury motel owner.

Full Text of the Forfeiture Reform Bill

To be posted.

Explanation of the Forfeiture Reform Bill

The existing civil asset forfeiture law will be changed by adding a subsection (g), as defined below.
This section requires the agents and agencies who seize personal assets to prepare an annual report detailing those assets and/or sales of those assets, for review by legislators and government administrators. (This is a new requirement, not part of current law.)
Every item seized as part of civil asset forfeiture shall be itemized, as required by MGL Chapter 94C s. 47 (applying to the seizure of controlled substances and any personal assets related to that seizure.)
The annual report will be made public, with a filing deadline of January 31 following the year to which it applies.
This law, the Forfeiture of Property, shall be changed by replacing designated subsections with the subsections defined below.
This change to the existing law disallows district attorneys and attorney generals from pursuing civil asset forfeiture cases on property worth less than $250.
A continuation of existing law stating that petitions to seize personal property must be filed in the court with jurisdiction over that property, and not a court outside that jurisdiction. Or else the forfeiture must be brought in the criminal court, if any criminal case is pending in parallel.
Changes the threshold for seizing property without an arrest from the less stringent “probable cause” to a “preponderance of the evidence”. This change shifts the burden of proof from the responsibility of the owner of the property to the seizing agency or law enforcement representative.
Claimants of property seized in relation to suspected criminal activity, as described in sections (c) and (i), must prove eligibility for an exception to forfeiture.
Notice must be given to owners or claimants of seized property. Following notice, a hearing must be held on the petition to seize property.
Public counsel representation for criminal defendants will be extended to any parallel civil hearing to seize their property. Often civil asset forfeiture has been raised in parallel to criminal complaints, not because the assets were really involved in any crime but rather because the crime is unlikely to be proved and the prosecution wants the assets nevertheless.
Public counsel representation will be made available to non-criminal owners or claimants of seized property who are indigent.
Hearings on petitions for property seizure will be delayed until any criminal proceedings are decided.
The court will make final judgments based on evidence presented in hearings.
When forfeiture is found to be justified by the court, seized property may be disposed of in a legal manner, including by selling the property.
Proceeds from the sale of seized property may cover storage, ownership, advertising and other costs. Any remaining proceeds may be distributed as described below.
Forfeited money and proceeds from sale of seized property is to be distributed equally: half to the prosecuting DA or attorney general, and half to the police department that seized the property.
If more than one police department took part in the seizure, half the money or proceeds will be distributed equally among the participating departments.
Meanwhile, trust funds shall be established for each district attorney and the attorney general.
Any forfeited money or proceeds from sale of seized property will be deposited into these trust funds, for express purposes defined in (i) through (viii):
An annual audit report must be completed by any program seeking funds from these trust funds.
Each DA and the attorney general will submit an annual report on the use of money in these trust funds to the state legislature.
Police departments that seize property shall also create special trust funds from the deposit of forfeited money and proceeds from sale of seized property, to be used for express purposes defined in (i) through (viii):
Any police department that received money as forfeited or from sales of seized property will submit an annual report on the use of money in the trust funds to the state legislature.
Forfeited money or proceeds from sales of seized property will not be used for police department operating costs.
Information regarding seized property will be tracked and made public, including details defined in (i) through (xvi).
Publication of this information will not violate any privacy laws.
In the event no property seizure took place in a given year, agencies or police departments will file a report stating such.
The committee on public counsel services will submit an annual report to the state legislature, including details defined in (i) through (iii).
All agencies and departments involved in property forfeiture will submit an annual report to the state legislature and administration with details regarding seized property.



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