The Heartland Institute reports that three new bills were signed into law which limit property seizure practices in the state.
These new statues ban police officers from seizing property in suspected drug crimes without first acquiring a conviction or plea agreement.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal progress that enables law enforcement to confiscate assets—cars and money—from individuals suspected of being involved in illegal activity. In previous cases, law enforcement did not even have to charge the owner with a crime. The owner would then have to go to court to get their property back.
Now, these new laws prohibit police officers from taking property for suspected drug crimes without first having a conviction or plea agreement in cases dealing with assets below $50,000. These new laws also mandate that the government notify an individual if their property has been confiscated while shifting the burden on officials to prove that the forfeiture is justified.
If the forfeiture does meet the aforementioned points, the property must then be returned to the owner within 14 days.
However, there are still challenges for this legislation.
Lee McGrath, the senior legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice, believes that it will be difficult for citizens to recover the property that the state seized.
McGrath said, “The average forfeiture is less than $2,000. It is irrational for a property owner to spend $5,000 on a lawyer to get back property worth less than the lawyer’s cost.”
He added, “It is equally irrational for legislators to believe that most citizens can use a form to answer a civil complaint in 20 days without the help of a lawyer.”
Matthew Glans, a senior policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, says that law enforcement agencies make big cash from these practices because they can sell the assets they took and use the funds for their own benefit.
“Michigan took a strong first step toward limiting the abuse of civil asset forfeiture by limiting its use in drug cases, which do represent a large portion of property seizures,” Glans stated.
“Unfortunately, the new laws do not end the practice completely and do not address the incentives for law enforcement agencies to wrongfully seize property,” added Glans.
According to a report in Budget & Tax News, a total of $13 million in assets were seized in Michigan.
Glans, however, believes that this is only a first step and should be followed up with further reforms.
“Michigan lawmakers should build on these positive reforms and enact further new laws requiring seized funds to be directed toward education, crime prevention, or the general fund, not used by law enforcement agencies,” Glans advised.
Glans claims that police also share the proceeds of the seized assets with federal agencies.
“[The Michigan Legislature] should also close the equitable sharing loophole and block local police agencies from working with federal authorities to sidestep state restrictions on forfeiture and dividing the seized assets between them,” said Glans.
Civil asset forfeiture reform is one of the few battles liberty conservatives are winning at the state level.
This practice is one of the most lucrative revenue grabs in America, with law enforcement agencies seizing $4.5 billion in assets in 2014 alone.
Thankfully, activists across the nation are catching wind of this trend and putting pressure to reform civil asset forfeiture procedures.