Summary of Recommendations

Michigan and federal policy makers should

  • Remove incentives for law enforcement agencies to employ asset forfeiture. End the twin practices of allowing law enforcement agencies to profit from the sale of the assets they seize and paying informants to provide information to help build forfeiture cases.

  • End federal "adoption" of state forfeiture cases. State law agents should be prohibited from asking federal agents to "adopt" forfeiture cases. Michigan property owners should not have to fight the full resources of the federal government, whose forfeiture laws provide less of a barrier to asset seizure.

  • Shift the burden of proof from property owners to government. Property owners must currently establish the "innocence" of their property once it has been seized. Government should be required to show proof that disputed property is connected to illegal activity before it can be seized.

  • Establish nexus and proportionality requirements for forfeiture. Current law should be changed to require government to show connection between specific property and a crime for which guilt has been found. The amount of property seized should be in proportion to the crime committed by its owner.

  • Eliminate legal hurdles to citizens’ ability to challenge forfeiture. Lawmakers should extend the length of time citizens are given to file claims to seized property and eliminate the requirement that they post bond to do so. Successful claimants should be reimbursed by the government for expenses incurred during forfeiture proceedings.

  • Require law enforcement agents to publicly justify forfeiture proceedings. Law enforcement agencies should be required to publish an explanation each time they seize and retain private property. The resulting public awareness will encourage self-restraint on the part of law enforcement agencies.

  • Enact protections against forfeiture for innocent owners of property. Language in forfeiture statutes should be strengthened to ensure that property owners who have not participated in, or acquiesced to, a crime committed with their property are not punished with forfeiture.

  • Give third-party creditors the chance to recover seized property. Innocent third parties with an interest in seized property, such as lien holders, should be given a judicial remedy to recover against the government.

  • Ensure that asset forfeiture reforms do not include an expanded definition of criminal behavior. If asset forfeiture is allowed only upon proof of a related crime, lawmakers should resist any urge to broaden the definition of criminal behavior to include currently noncriminal activities.