Civil Asset Forfeiture: Know Your Rights!

Have you seen the video of a cop in Berkeley, California busting a hot dog vendor for operating without a license on a city sidewalk– and then seizing all the money that the vendor had?

Law enforcement can’t take your money – right?

Wrong.  Like California, both Massachusetts and federal law allow for the seizing of assets from people accused or suspected of a crime. This is called Civil Asset Forfeiture.

Local and state police in Massachusetts, and federal authorities, need only have probable cause to suspect that your property was used in a crime to seize that property. The burden then falls on you to demonstrate your innocence, or ignorance, of the crime in order to reclaim your property.  If you cannot prove your innocence, or are convicted of a crime, law enforcement can keep up to 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of your seized assets.

You might say – well this is only for drug dealers and traffickers and that’s fine.  However, the reality is that this law can be used for simple licensing infractions – like the hot dog vendor – or for people in simple traffic stops where drugs are suspected but not found.   Law enforcement can seize your money, your home, your car, your boat, your bank accounts and even your business if they have a reasonable suspicion that these assets were used in the commission of a crime.

These civil asset forfeiture laws disproportionately affect people of color throughout Massachusetts who are more frequently stopped on suspicion of a crime.  The police can seize money even if there isn’t an arrest made, and then the burden is on the individual to fight to get their money or property back and prove his or her innocence, which is especially hard to do when there are no charges.

Sounds draconian, and it is!

The Institute for Justice recently gave Massachusetts an “F” for its civil asset forfeiture laws and called for vast reforms due to the high burden placed on people to prove their innocence.

Know your rights.  If you feel that your assets have been improperly seized, call Levine-Piro Law, P.C. at 978-637-2048 for a consultation to discuss how to defend yourself and retrieve your property.