In Massachusetts, police can seize any money or property they suspect is part of a drug crime, on mere suspicion, even if no one is charged with a crime. Prosecutors can then keep the seized money or property for years, even if criminal cases are dismissed. The practice is called civil asset forfeiture, and Massachusetts has the lowest bar in the nation for law enforcement to seize and keep money.
In an investigation with ProPublica, WBUR found that Worcester County makes it so hard to reclaim seized money and property, that some law experts say it violates due process rights.
WBUR Investigations is undertaking a multiplatform enterprise reporting project to shed light on this issue. It will track the outcomes of local and federal civil forfeiture cases in one Massachusetts county over one year or a period of time, exploring the impact on people not charged with a crime, found innocent by the court system or merely involved as third parties, particularly those from vulnerable communities. The project will also dig into how law enforcement spent the money they seized.
Documentary evidence will be balanced with personal stories from those who have suffered as a result of the state’s policies. Select stories will be translated into Spanish through a newsroom partnership with El Planeta, Boston’s Latino daily.