Michigan Senate Makes ‘Bold And Unexpected’ Decision On Property Rights

Casey Harper | Contributor

Michigan is one step closer to requiring police to keep track of how much property they seize from citizens.

Michigan’s Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a package of bills Wednesday to reform civil asset forfeiture.

Civil asset forfeiture is a widely used practice where police can seize property and keep it even if they don’t convict or charge someone with a crime. Then, that person must go through the complicated-and-often-unsuccessful process to get their property back from the police.

Though the set of bills were only scheduled for a hearing, Senate Judiciary Chairman Rick Jones unexpectedly called for a vote and approved the legislation. Now the bills can get a vote on the floor.

“For too long in Michigan, law enforcement has used civil asset forfeiture to seize cars and cash from average citizens who are never even charged with crimes,” Holly Harris, executive director of Fix Forfeiture, said in a statement. “In a bold and unexpected move, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to pass a package of legislation that provides much-needed transparency and accountability to this process, and affords more due process protection to property owners.”

The legislation has passed the House. It would increase the burden of proof necessary to forfeit property and require police forces to keep records on the property seized. While the legislation does not address the major problems of police taking property from innocent people, Harris says it’s an important first step to reform.

The reforms are so weak, in fact, that even the Michigan Association of Police Officers (MAPO) has endorsed the legislation. Police are typically against civil asset forfeiture reform. In New Mexico, police fought tough reforms of civil asset forfeiture.

“While we caution lawmakers against making policy on any issue because of a few anecdotes that represent ‘outlier’ behavior, this package of bills is a reasonable, measured approach to improving transparency in forfeiture activities and diminishes the ‘policing for profit’ perception that has attached to this issue,” MAPO wrote in a letter last month announcing the endorsement.

Harris hopes once data is collected on how much money is seized, that information can be used to get more reform.

Ginnifer Hency of Michigan had everything taken from her  — including electronics, medicine and, oddly, the family’s ladder — simply because she had medical marijuana.marijuana. Hency’s example is one of many across the country that have drawn criticism of forfeiture laws.

“Under Michigan’s current regime, there is no enforceable requirement to report what was confiscated, and how that money was used. Such lax oversight has seen a rise in disturbing cases of possible abuse; such as the famous cases of Ginnifer Hency, whose house was raided because of her legal marijuana, or Annette Shattuck, who had a similar experience,” Jorge Marin, a policy analyst and criminal justice specialist for Americans for Tax Reform, said in his written testimony.

Civil Asset Forfeiture Explained In Two Minutes:


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