Reforming Michigan’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Law May be Coming
A bill was introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives to reform Michigan’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Law.
Michigan’s House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday to consider House Bill 4158, which is the first bill in what states Representatives say is a broader package of bills that is aimed at reforming Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture law.
House Bill 4158 does have some bipartisan support, State Representative Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, believes requiring government to obtain a conviction before it keeps the property it has seized protects residents with lower incomes. He is quoted in the article stating:
Unfortunately with some this becomes a revenue issue. And I fundamentally believe that the reason you seize property is not to make money, but I don’t want to generalize…It disproportionally hits those with low income because they can’t fight these seizures.”My first thought was why is State Representative Zemke only seem to care about “lower income residents” in his support of this bill. It should not matter what the income or wealth of a Michigan resident when it comes to their property being taken by our state government.
First let us define what Civil Asset Forfeiture is, according to the Heritage Foundations website:
It is a legal tool that allows law enforcement officials to seize property that they assert has been involved in certain criminal activity. In fact, the owner of the property doesn’t even need to be guilty of a crime: Civil asset forfeiture proceedings charge the property itself with involvement in a crime. This means that police can seize your car, home, money, or valuables without ever having to charge you with a crime. There are many, many stories of innocent people being stripped of their money and property by law enforcement.
Civil asset forfeiture basically means transferring ownership of assets seized by police, which is typically, cash and vehicles, from citizens to the government, including the law enforcement agencies that execute the seizures.
Michigan has been a leading state when it came to civil asset forfeiture of its citizen’s property. Michigan received a grade of D- for its civil asset forfeiture laws in a 2015 study by the Institute for Justice. The legislature, being prodded by certain citizen lead groups, has been working for a few years to reform this law.
One of the worst parts of this law is in many cases even if the owner is never convicted or even charged with a crime the state keeps their property. The owner can challenged the states but that has cost quite a bit of money and time.
In the state of Michigan, a person does not have to be convicted, prosecuted, or even charged for civil asset forfeiture to take place. It is a legal process in Michigan that occurs after police seize property, either as part of an investigation or on suspicions that it may be the ill-gotten gains of an alleged crime.
The Michigan Capitol Confidential gave the following example:
in May 2016 the Michigan State Police seized $2,035 from someone during a traffic stop, based on a suspicion that the man had just completed a drug transaction. The police searched his SUV and found no drugs or drug-related materials, but still seized the cash.
The article also informed us that:
During 2016, one out of every 10 Michigan residents whose property was taken by law enforcement using civil asset forfeiture was never charged with a crime. Statewide, more than $15.3 million in cash and other property was forfeited in 2016, according to a Michigan State Police report. Since 2000, the state has retained forfeited property worth $20-$25 million every year.
If the bill does get passed and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan will join 14 states, as well as the District of Columbia, which would require a conviction before Michigan can keep the property of a Michigan citizen who may never have done anything wrong
This is a step in the right direction and I believe should be passed and signed by the Governor. Why should any governmental unit be allowed to keep seized assets if they cannot prove that the assets where acquired from illegal activities. Where would this type of seizure activity ever end then?