Here in Massachusetts, police take drug offenses very seriously. In some situations, a lengthy investigation may be necessary, giving police extra time to build a case against an individual. In some cases, charges may be filed quickly, perhaps even after a routine traffic stop. However charges are levied though, defendants can expect the consequences to be steep and prosecutors to show little to no mercy.
As if this wasn't stressful enough, those accused of committing drug crimes also have to worry about civil asset forfeiture as well. What is civil asset forfeiture, you may ask? It's the lawful seizure of property or funds believed to have a connection with a crime. With civil asset forfeiture, property and funds are presumed to be guilty, forcing defendants to prove their property's innocence in court.
As you can imagine, civil asset forfeiture cases can be incredibly challenging because a person's property and funds do not have the same rights as a defendant does. Also, defendants often have to argue against police and prosecutors who know the law better than the average person. It's for this reason and more that legal representation is often a necessity in forfeiture cases.
As if the prospect of forfeiture wasn't bad enough, in many cases, a person does not even need to be convicted of a crime for forfeiture to take place. In some cases, innocent individuals have not been able to recover their property or funds because of complexities in our state's legal system.
It's because of cases like this that many people here in Worchester and across Massachusetts believe that civil asset forfeiture laws are being abused. As some of you may know, some politicians are pushing for changes to federal forfeiture laws. Whether or not those changes occur here in Massachusetts remains to be seen.
Sources: The Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Asset Forfeiture," Accessed Sept. 22, 2015
The Institute of Justice, "Asset Forfeiture Report, Massachusetts," Accessed Sept. 22, 2015