Civil forfeiture is a subject we’ve talked about with our readers for years now. It’s a highly controversial topic that regularly makes headlines here in Michigan, where we’ve been labelled one of the worst states for civil asset forfeiture regulation. Although in recent years, several laws have passed aimed at better regulation of police seizure of private property, Michigan STILL has a problem with civil asset forfeiture. And if Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes good on his recent promises, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better!
According to a recent state report, one in every ten Michigan residents whose property is seized by the cops is never charged with a crime. That means that 10 percent of all people in Michigan who lose assets to civil forfeiture, are NOT GUILTY of criminal activity. Last year, that 10 percent amounted to no less than 523 people, which is a staggering number. All of whom lost thousands of dollars in assets. All of whom are presumed to be innocent.
Civil forfeiture in Michigan has a long and sordid history…
The Detroit Free Press recently shared a story about a man from Oakland County in Metro Detroit. His name is Donny Barnes and he lost everything in a drug raid. You hear the term “drug raid” and the automatic assumption is that the man in question must have been a drug dealer. Perhaps a producer. If nothing else, at least an illegal user, right? Otherwise, why would the cops raid his home? If only it were that easy….
In November 2014, heavily armed cops busted down Mr. Barnes’ door and made off with his two SUVs, all of his children’s Christmas presents, and the contents of his bank account – a total of $10,938. It’s been just over three years since that day, and although Barnes has never been charged with a crime, he has STILL NOT had his property returned.
The Barnes case is a classic example of justice being obstructed by “the good guys”…
At a recent hearing in Pontiac, north of Detroit, Oakland County Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot expressed her fury at how the case has been handled. After hearing that the return of Barnes’ bank account contents had been once again delayed, she lashed out at the prosecutor. “I’m outraged by the way this was handled!” she told the court, and then went on to accuse the prosecutor’s office of deliberate obstruction of justice. “This hints at more than just a mistake.” she said, “This continuous action hints at obstruction!”
It has been 22 months since the court ruled that Barnes’ account should be unfrozen and his assets returned to him. But the prosecutor’s office has created one delay after another, dragging their feet and refusing to comply with the court order. In response, Judge Chabot nailed the prosecutor with fines, and awarded $2,500 to the defense in “sanctions.”
Things might be getting better in Michigan, but on a federal level they may still get worse…
While Barnes’ case seems to be (slowly) working its way towards a just outcome, the subject of civil asset forfeiture is still being hotly debated around the country. In the last few years many states have made an effort to reign the practice in, and now require more accountability from officers confiscating private property. However Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that he fully intends to “develop plans to increase forfeiture.”
We have no idea what the future holds with regard to this particular subject (or any subject for that matter; we’re lawyers, not fortune tellers!) But whatever happens, we’ll be watching the laws, both state and federal, and keeping our readers informed of changes that could impact their lives. Until then, if you or a loved one need help, call us here at The Kronzek Firm at 866 766 5245. Our highly skilled criminal defense attorneys are available ’round the clock to help you! We have challenged government forfeitures for years.