August 31, 2021:- If you are a regular reader of my posts, you already know that Massachusetts is one of the worst States in the nation for civil asset forfeiture (worst, that is, from the point of view of the people whose property the police seize). And you also know that police departments can keep whatever they take from someone even if that person is never charged, let alone convicted, of any crime. But you might still be wondering how Massachusetts officials spend the proceeds. A new report by WBUR and ProPublica has some answers.
The WBUR and ProPublica journalists looked at Worcester County, where the District Attorney, Joseph D. Early, Jr., obtained $4 million in forfeitures in the period 2017-20:
“Early has been criticized by the state auditor for spending forfeiture funds on a Zamboni ice-clearing machine and tree-trimming equipment. Over the years, his office has posted photos on its website of Early handing out checks for “Drug Forfeiture Community Reinvestment,” to pay for baseball and softball fields or to support a cheerleading team.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with baseball, softball, and cheerleaders, in my opinion. If the DA wants to spend his own money on that sort of thing, OK. But other people’s money? And who are these other people?
“WBUR’s analysis of Worcester County forfeitures from 2017 through 2019 found that more than half of the seizures in these cases were for less than $500. In one incident, Fitchburg police seized $10 from a man listed as homeless. In another, Sturbridge police took $10 from a 14-year-old boy.”
This helps explain why so few people bother challenging seizures in court: The cost of hiring an attorney is far higher than the value of the seized property.
If you have ever wondered how Massachusetts politicians can be so cavalier about other people’s property rights (e.g. enacting laws to stop landlords from going to court to enforce leases) read the WBUR/ProPublica article. It’s an eye-opener.