A month after the Mackinac Center held an event on civil asset forfeiture, the Michigan House passed a package of bills that would reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws. Currently, law enforcement officials are able to seize private property from residents and transfer it to government agencies even if no one is convicted of a crime.
The bill package deals with mandating reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies and raising the standard of proof that must be met before property can be forfeited.
The state only has a rough idea how much property is forfeited each year to local law enforcement units and the bills would require more reporting and greater detail.
House bills 4500, 4503, 4504, 4506, and 4507 dealt with transparency and were all passed with at least 107 votes out of 110.
Two other bills in the package would raise the standard of proof needed to justify seizing private property.
House Bill 4505 and House Bill 4499 passed with more than 103 votes. Currently, law enforcement must demonstrate that a “preponderance of the evidence” (51 percent) shows the property to be the tool or fruit of a crime. These bills would raise that to a “clear and convincing” standard, which is still not as high as the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required for criminal convictions.
These bills are a great start, but the Legislature should ultimately require a criminal conviction before property can be given over to the state. North Carolina has long outlawed civil asset forfeiture, and New Mexico recently voted to prohibit it in April of 2015 (requiring both people and property to be tried in the criminal justice system together).
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared on the Mackinac Center blog.