2022 Explanatory Reporting, Medium Newsroom finalist

Seize and keep: Civil forfeiture in Massachusetts

About the Project

In Massachusetts, police can seize money, cell phones, cars and more from anyone they suspect to be connected to a drug crime. They can do this even if the person is never charged with a crime, and they can keep the property indefinitely.

The civil forfeiture laws in this state are so antiquated, law enforcement can seize money and property using a lower legal standard than any other state in the nation. And there is little public reporting on the assets taken or how the money is spent.

In a rigorous review of thousands of court files and police records, WBUR’s investigative team, in collaboration with ProPublica and with support from the Pulitzer Center, uncovered an abusive civil forfeiture process in Massachusetts. The story took a deep dive into Worcester County, and revealed that nearly one in four people whose assets were seized had no accompanying drug conviction or criminal case filing. Meanwhile, the district attorney held onto the assets of hundreds of people for years.