Civil asset forfeiture. Three little words that get so many people up in arms about violated rights and lack of accountability among law enforcement. And rightly so. Because while it can be harder to argue against police claiming rights to a vehicle used in a drug bust, taking items from people who are never charged with any crime is just ludicrous.
At a recent press conference, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette made public his support of the new legislation. With regard to the issue of forfeiture and transparency he said, “…as a lawyer and as attorney general, I’m in support of these seven bills.” And for a great many people around Michigan, this change couldn’t come fast enough.
Bill would increase the burden of proof required to seize personal property
The bill package, approved by the Michigan House and now awaiting action in the Senate, wouldn’t get rid of civil asset forfeiture completely. But it would increase the burden of proof required for law enforcement agencies to seize personal property. It would also increase the reporting standards across the bar for all law enforcement agencies in the state.
The new laws, if passed, will make it mandatory that all police agencies—state, county and local—report every single item confiscated from a civilian. This will make confiscations easier to track. And also easier to fight, if that’s what it comes to. In addition, law enforcement would be required to provide considerably more substantial proof of wrongdoing before they could legally remove a person’s items from their property.
Specifically, with regards to drug and public nuisance cases, the evidence of wrongdoing must be considered “clear and convincing.” In fact, only one provision was removed from the legislation as it moved through the Senate last August. This was the measure prohibiting forfeiture of vehicles used to purchase marijuana in quantities under one single ounce.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy have both been very outspoken in their desire for civil asset forfeiture reform. They want to make it exclusively a post-criminal conviction option. But in reality, these kinds of changes take time. And so both organizations have spoken in favor of the new legislation. They hope to address the issue again once the new laws have passed.
In addition to the Attorney General’s support, the Michigan Association of Police Organizations has also stepped up, stating that they openly support this new bill package. So while Michigan is unlikely be a national trend setter with regard to this volatile issue, we are making strides in the right direct. And we couldn’t be more pleased.