We’ve all heard about it – the furious man who was arrested for drunk driving but had a significant amount of cash taken by the police when his car was impounded. Money that had nothing to do with his case, but which the law allows officers to take anyway. Or the guy busted for growing pot in his garage who loses the power washing equipment used in his legal business when police raid his property.
Civil asset forfeiture has been a source of contention and debate for many years now. The fact that it is legal for police to seize a citizen’s personal property, even if no charges are filed against them, is a hot button for many people in this state. But as it turns out, that may be changing.
An eight bill package is currently on it’s way through the Michigan House that would reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws. Introduced last Wednesday, the bills would fortify current regulations pertaining to law enforcement’s reporting requirements by making them mandatory and uniform for state, county, and city law enforcement agencies.
New law would outlaw officers from seizing vehicles
Also, the new law would increase the standard of evidence in drug and public nuisance cases. Current evidentiary standards are listed as a “preponderance” of evidence. The new law would change that to “clear and convincing” evidence. Plus it would also outlaw officers from seizing vehicles from people purchasing small quantities of pot for personal use ( 1 oz. or less).
Representative Klint Kesto, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, introduced the bipartisan bill package in order to protect the public’s right to reclaim their property. He also points out, however, that law enforcement agencies need to be able to do their jobs properly. Which includes removing property that was used in criminal undertakings from people convicted of crimes.
Sponsoring Representative Jeff Irwin believes that while this bill package won’t bring the state to where it should be on this issue, it is a big step in the right direction. Irwin has separately proposed the idea that civil forfeiture should be banned with a criminal conviction, which is not a measure included in this particular set of bills.
Michigan is not the only state in recent years to take a long look at it’s asset forfeiture laws. Even the federal government has said that new limitations will be put in place in the near future for federal civil forfeiture laws.
In 2010, the Institute for Justice conducted a nationwide review of civil asset forfeiture laws around the US. Michigan scored very poorly, receiving a D- for our loose evidentiary standards and the fact that our current laws incentivize excessive forfeiture by law enforcement.