Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws Under National Scrutiny
About a month ago we revisited this highly volatile subject, updating you on where we were as a state on the subject, and what changes were hoped for in the future. But the five bills still working their way through the legislature have yet to amount to anything, and the topic is still a hot item on the Mitten’s sorely contested list of not-so-pure-Michigan issues. Right up there with the state of our roads and our underfunded education system.
So what exactly is the current status of civil asset forfeiture laws in Michigan? Well, early last month the Michigan House signed off on an eight bill package that would strengthen asset forfeiture reporting laws and raise the current evidentiary standards.
Which would certainly make sense to Ginnifer Hency, though it will likely come too late to make any difference to her particular case. Hency is a legal medical marijuana patient suffering from multiple sclerosis, whose home was raided by a drug task force from the the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office last year.
Although Hency was eventually cleared by a judge, the Sheriff’s Office kept many of Henry’s personal items for 10 months before they were finally returned to her. Items that had nothing whatsoever to do with the crime she was accused of. “My ladders, my iPads, my children’s iPads, my children’s phones, my medicine for my patients.” Hency explained during her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. “Why a ladder? Why my vibrator? I don’t know either? Why TVs?”
The truth is, nobody knows why, and the Sheriff’s Office denies that the encounter was anything like Hency’s testimony. But it was no different for Annette Shattuck, another Michigan mom whose home was raided by a drug task force due to compliance concerns. In this instance, Shattuck claims they took everything, from the family’s lawn mower to the children’s car seats.
But again, the task force has denied that the raid was anything like Shattuck’s description. St. Clair County Sheriff Tim Donnellon has even gone on record calling her a liar and saying that her testimony is aimed at nothing more than furthering the legalization of marijuana in Michigan.
However, it is these stories and more that have put Michigan squarely in the sights of a newly formed coalition, Fix Forfeiture. The group consists of high-profile conservatives along with progressive organizations who are active on multiple criminal justice issues. And Michigan is one of three states that the coalition aims to focus on in their 2015 push for reform.
According to a spokesperson for the Coalition for Public Safety, another national group aimed at reforming the criminal justice system, states all across the U.S. are seeing sweeping reform in the civil asset forfeiture area. This year alone, legislation has been introduced in almost 30 states aimed at reforming this particular area of law enforcement. And Michigan is no different. But as of yet, we are still waiting.