Civil Asset Forfeiture in Michigan May Come Soon
Michigan is moving closer to reforming civil asset forfeiture following arrests. In Michigan, the police may keep seized property during an arrest. This has become a tool for funding police departments. Currently, police can keep seized property even when the person is not charged with a crime or is later found not guilty.
The new law would stop civil asset forfeiture for amounts of property under $50,000 unless the person is actually convicted of a crime.
What is Civil Asset Forfeiture?
When a person is arrested, the police will often take the property they find on the person. The most common example is when a person with cash in their wallet is arrested. The police will take the cash and keep it – saying the person forfeited the property. Another example would be where the police arrest a person for drunk driving and keep the car unless the person pays a large amount of money to get the car back. The only way to get the money back is to file a suit in the circuit court.
The Difficulty for the Average Person in Dealing with Asset Forfeiture
Let’s say the police arrested you and kept the $3,000 in your pocket. How could you get it back? You can only get the property back through filing a lawsuit against the police department for its return. But here’s the problem. You go to a lawyer and the lawyer says such a lawsuit will cost money – probably more money than you had taken in the first place. All of sudden, the economics of the situation make it too expensive to even get your money back. So you’re stuck in this situation where the police get to keep the money. And police know this.
Here are the civil forfeiture stats from 2016 and 2017, the years with the last available data:
- 736 people never charged with a crime had property forfeited
- 220 people were charged with a crime but not convicted had property forfeited
- $500 is the typical value of property taken by the government from people not charged with a crime
Changes Under the New Proposed Law
The new will prevent the police from keeping property under $50,000 unless a person is convicted of a crime. This means the police may not keep money or property simply because a person is arrested.
Bills to this effect have been passed in the Michigan House and Senate, making the law closer to reality. Stay tuned for updates.
Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Michigan.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.