Governor Whitmer signed a civil asset forfeiture reform bill today, limiting the ability of police officers to keep property they seize when an arrest is made. Under the new law, police will not be able to keep property under $50,000 unless the person is convicted of a crime.
Why is this important? Nearly 1,000 people over the last three years were arrested, had their property taken by police and not returned but were not convicted of a crime. Over 700 of those people were not even charged with a crime.
That is 1,000 innocent people who had their property kept (stolen) by the police.
What is Civil Asset Forfeiture?
When police officers make an arrest, they traditionally have been able to keep property they find when the arrest is made. The goal is to take money away from people who make money illegally, thereby disrupting criminal enterprises. The reality is that civil asset forfeiture is used against everybody, whether suspected small-time dealer or more organized-level player.
For example, let’s say the police arrest someone they suspect of drug dealing and find $5,000 on the person. The police will keep the $5,000, even if the person is not charged or convicted of a crime. Civil asset forfeiture is one method the police use to raise money for their departments. The new law changes this.
The person arrested is able to get the property back if not charged or convicted, but the legal route to doing so is very difficult and often not worth it financially. A person must sue the police in circuit court for the return of the property. This is a costly proposition that deters most people from getting their property back.
The Statistics Support the Above Statements
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
The statistics show during this period nearly 1,000 people who had property taken and not returned (basically stolen) who were not convicted of any crime from the arrest.
What Does the New Law Do?
Police will not be able to keep seized property under $50,000 unless the person arrested is convicted of a crime. Property seized will not simply convert to police property.
The new law comes on the heels of an important Supreme Court case which rules that excessive forfeiture is banned by the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
Call Sam Bernstein at 734-883-9584
Sam Bernstein is an Ann Arbor Attorney focusing on Criminal Defense.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.