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Lawmakers and criminal justice advocates in Massachusetts are calling for changes to the laws that govern how law enforcement seizes, and keeps, cash and property confiscated in suspected drug crimes. The push follows a WBUR and ProPublica investigation that found a top prosecutor stockpiling people’s money for years, even when they weren’t charged with a drug offense or their cases were dismissed.
The system, known as civil asset forfeiture, was designed to disrupt criminal drug operations, but in Massachusetts, it’s easier for prosecutors to hold onto cash indefinitely once it’s seized. That’s because, under state laws, district attorneys need only meet the lowest legal burden of proof, probable cause, to support suspicions that the money was involved in a drug crime; DAs also face no deadline to notify a person that they intend to keep the cash.