A new official report suggests that law enforcement agencies in Michigan routinely violate the constitutional rights of residents by exploiting laws on civil asset forfeiture.
Forfeiture is a process by which the government takes ownership of private property that was involved in a crime or resulted from criminal activity. In theory, it is supposed to derive criminals of ill-begotten gains. In practice, law enforcement often seizes and forfeits property from innocent people.
Improvements in forfeiture laws in recent years have led to fewer people having their assets seized. Even so, 2022 saw more than 150 cases in which lost their property without ever being charged with a crime. Another 100 lost their assets despite not being convicted of a crime. About 75% of forfeiture cases in Michigan are processed administratively — meaning they take place without a court’s scrutiny.
Wayne County recently received a rebuke from a federal court for its abuse of forfeiture. The judges in the case found that Michigan’s laws are easily exploited; several loopholes enable governments to violate the constitutional rights of Michigan residents.
Michigan lawmakers need to act. The state should join other states and end civil forfeiture. Law enforcement should be able to permanently keep someone’s assets only after that person has been convicted of a crime, and a court finds that the person gained the assets through illegal activity. Recent bipartisan reforms have protected the rights of Michigan residents, but there is still more to be done.
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