June 23, 2022 -Springfield- Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released the 2021 opioid related fatalities report for the State of Massachusetts. That reported indicted the Commonwealth has suffered the most overdose deaths in its history, 2,290, which is an almost 9% increase over the prior year’s deaths. As we continue to battle through policy and enforcement, Senate Bill #2671 is on the wrong side of this fight.
Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni stated, “This bill affords no respect to those who have lost a loved one to drug addiction, no respect to our neighborhoods and communities fighting against drug dealers, no respect to law enforcement who’s working every day to hold dealers and traffickers accountable, and no respect to the taxpaying citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Senate bill 2671 is an insult to taxpayers and a misguided affront to the ongoing pursuit of healthy and safe communities across our Commonwealth. it is a solution in search of a problem. If this bill becomes law, police departments and district attorneys lose money on which we presently rely; many community programs will suffer the loss of these needed funds made possibly by our efforts in forfeiture; and will, in fact, support and assist the profitability of drug dealing in this Commonwealth.”
Senate Bill 2671, entitled, “An Act Relative to Forfeiture Reform”, seeks to do the following:
- Provides CPCS representation – a taxpayer-funded lawyer – for “indigent” property owners in forfeiture proceedings, whether or not the property owner was a defendant in the criminal proceeding.
- Establishes a $250 minimum value for forfeiture.
- Changes the Commonwealth’s burden of proof from probable cause to preponderance of the evidence. Strikes language expressly placing burden of proof onto property owner to prove exceptions to forfeiture.
- Strikes statutory language permitting use of forfeiture proceeds by an authorized law enforcement or public agency.
- Strikes statutory language permitting use of forfeiture proceeds to pay the costs of forfeiture proceedings and seizure.
- Directs all forfeited money and proceeds to be deposited into the General Fund, including proceeds received from another jurisdiction including the federal government.
Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni stated, “This bill makes it easier for convicted drug dealers and traffickers to keep the proceeds of their activity, which is killing our citizens and crumbling our neighborhoods. Furthermore, this bill also provides free, taxpayer-funded legal representation, in the form of a public defender, to convicted drug dealers so they can fight to regain the tax-free profits from selling poison into our communities.”
Presently, after a full and fair civil proceeding, ultimately decided by a judge, monies that prosecutors prove had a nexus to illegal activity, like cash and vehicles, is forfeited to the state and is split between the investigating agencies and the relevant prosecutor’s office
As currently drafted, this law would provide free lawyers in these civil proceedings, in which there is no threat of incarceration; however the Senate has not and is not moving to provide public lawyers to people such as indigent victims of domestic abuse, who have to navigate the court system for restraining orders to protect themselves and their children. Instead, sponsors of this legislation want to provide court-appointed attorneys for drug dealers and traffickers seeking to keep their ill-begotten profits. Assets are forfeited from defendants charged with drug trafficking or distribution offenses. We do not and often cannot seek asset forfeiture against those charged with mere possessory drug offenses, and other crimes.
The bill also, inexplicably and without reason, takes forfeiture monies away from police departments, state police, and federal law enforcement and away from district attorneys’ offices and the Attorney General, to deposit these monies to the state General Fund.
Current state law has strict and firm parameters around how this money can be spent by law enforcement. Further, there are firm, annual reporting requirements to the legislature about the money is actually spent in a given fiscal year. Simply, the current state of the law requires and oversees careful and circumspect use of this money for only certain purposes.
District attorneys’ offices and police agencies across the state rely on this money to augment their budgets for essential aspects of their work that support public safety, including:
- Use in complicated narcotics investigations
- for support of computer forensic analysis in serious investigations
- training of assistant district attorneys and police
- the hiring of experts for trials
- private forensic analysis, especially in cases like murders, when turnaround time is crucial
- the purchase of Narcan to save lives
- drug prevention and intervention programs
- and to support community and youth programs
Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni stated, “As you have seen over my years in office, we have used this money to benefit the community and to prevent drug use and support recovery. For example, in recent years, we provided money to the Carew Street Boys & Girls Club to build a dance studio for girls to learn how to dance; we provided money to the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club to purchase new scoreboards in their gym; we provided money to the New North Citizens Council to assist people to access services in substance use treatment and recovery support; we’ve provided money to the Black Men of Greater Springfield to support their mentorship program that provides youth with year-round mentoring and healthy activities…among dozens of others. This, as I have called in past years, is the “Robin Hood effect” – taking money from those who misuse it and providing to those to do good with it. This bill seeks to stop these programs, which are happening all over the state, only to redirect this money into the state’s General Fund, where it can be spent on anything, without the oversight and direction currently required by relevant law.”
Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, went on to say, “I urge all members of the Senate to heed this call and vote against this bill. I urge them to speak with their constituents, those who live in neighborhoods wracked by drug dealing and its associated violence, or to speak with a family who’s lost a loved one to an overdose. I thank Senator John Velis, who has been an ally and a strong opponent of this bill. By making the general public aware of this potential law, I encourage residents who are as shocked and angered by it as me, to call their state legislators and voice their concern.”