Civil forfeiture allows prosecutors to transfer ownership of assets from citizens to the state outside of a criminal legal process. As explained by the U.S. Department of Justice: “Civil judicial forfeiture is an in rem (against the property) action brought in court against the property. The property is the defendant and no criminal charge against the owner is necessary.”
In other words, the “defendant” in a civil asset forfeiture case is the seized property, not the owner of the property. While criminal suspects have legal rights such as a right to a speedy trial, a court-appointed attorney if they are indigent, and Miranda warnings, no such protections are provided to property alleged to be associated with criminal activity. This makes it easier for law enforcement to acquire forfeited assets through civil forfeiture compared to criminal forfeiture, because the civil forfeiture procedure does not require a conviction of a person or even a criminal charge against a person.
The standard for the government to establish guilt are different in criminal and civil proceedings. In criminal proceedings, the government must establish guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” before a person can be convicted. But in order for property to be forfeited in civil courts in Michigan, the state only has to show that property was involved in a crime “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This lower standard makes it easier for the state to obtain property in civil proceedings compared to criminal proceedings.