Massachusetts Legislature to Consider Asset Forfeiture Action for People Convicted of Massachusetts Child Pornography Laws

A bill was recently filed with the Massachusetts Legislature calling for asset forfeiture provisions in certain Massachusetts Sex Crimes. The law would permit the police and the district attorney’s office prosecuting these crimes to seize property; i.e. cash and real estate from people who are convicted of Massachusetts Child Pornography Crimes and Massachusetts Child Enticement Crimes. The bill is sponsored by Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and Massachusetts State Senator Barry Finegold. The proceeds from the successful forfeiture actions would be used to better fund Cyber Crimes Units throughout the Commonwealth. Prosecutors now complain that they are understaffed and underfunded in their efforts to curb this type of criminal activity. If passed this law will likely bring millions of dollars to local and state police departments and to the district attorneys offices prosecuting these crimes.

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If this law resembles the Massachusetts Drug Forfeiture Law (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 94C Section 47) it will probably enable the prosecution to seize the following property in Massachusetts: all electronic equipment used to facilitate the illegal activity; any property used to transport, conceal, manufacture and in any way distribute the material; all real estate used to facilitate the crime; all money made in connection with the commission of the crime and more. Similar to the drug forfeiture law I would imagine that the property owner must either have known or should have known that the illicit activities were occurring at his home. In other words, if the home owner is renting to the accused or is the defendant’s parent, forfeiture might not apply provided that that person was unaware of the activities. The intended purpose of this act would be to deprive criminals of the tools by which they conduct their illegal activities. There would be a civil proceeding wherein a judge would make the determination of whether or not to order the property forfeited.

So as a practical matter how would this law work? Anytime someone was convicted of committing a Massachusetts Child Pornography Crime the prosecuting body would look to see if the defendant owned property and if there was any way to link that property to the commission of the offense. The property most vulnerable to seizure would be the defendant’s home. Unlike Massachusetts Drug Cases, the presence of cash and vehicle ownership are less likely the type of property that would facilitate the commission of these crimes. The convicted defendant would served with a complaint for forfeiture. There would be an opportunity to defend the action which would ultimately be decided by a judge. It is interesting that the article discussing this proposal suggests that the primary purpose behind the law is to fund law enforcement activities that fight Child Pornography Crimes. I would think the law would serve as a deterrent given the added penalty associated with a conviction.

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