Michigan’s civil forfeiture laws are among the worst in the country. In a 2010 study, “Policing For Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” the Institute for Justice gave Michigan’s civil forfeiture laws and use a D-minus.[32] IJ is a public interest law firm that represents clients fighting civil forfeiture losses. The study compared states based on their standard of proof required for conviction, where the burden of proof lies, who receives the proceeds, how much law enforcement agencies participate in federal equitable sharing takings, and a few other areas. The D-minus ranking ties Michigan for last among the states with Georgia, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.[33]

Similarly, Michael Greibrok of FreedomWorks, a private nonprofit that advocates for limited government policies, gave Michigan a D on its civil forfeiture report card. Michigan received low marks for having a low burden of proof for the state to meet before it could subject property to forfeiture and for allowing local law enforcement agencies to receive all the proceeds from their own forfeitures.[34]

These low grades are warranted. Local and state law enforcement agencies in Michigan make good use of the federal “equitable sharing” program, which accounted for almost half of the reported proceeds from civil forfeiture in 2013.[35] As mentioned, Michigan law creates incentives for law enforcement agencies to expand their use of civil forfeiture by allowing them to keep all the proceeds from forfeitures.[36] Further, prosecuting attorneys in Michigan need only show by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the property in question was associated with a criminal activity.[37] This standard is typically met when more than 50 percent of the evidence indicates guilt.[38] This is lower than the “clear and convincing evidence” standard mandated in other states or the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required for a criminal conviction.[39]

Several states have raised this burden of proof and subsequently narrowed the circumstances under which police can use civil forfeiture. Some states have made other reforms, such as requiring any forfeiture proceeds to go to the state’s general fund rather than to the police departments seizing the assets.[40] Maine is one of those states, and its law enforcement agencies do not use the federal equitable sharing program as much as many other states, presumably because the beneficiaries of these proceeds are not the local law enforcement agencies that seize property.[41]