Forfeiture is a practice by which law enforcement transfers assets – cash, vehicles, homes, etc. – from private citizens to the government. Criminal forfeiture occurs after the conviction of a person and is widely-accepted as legitimate.
The problem is with civil forfeiture.
Civil forfeiture occurs outside of the criminal justice system and, prior to 2019 legislation, did not require a criminal conviction. This has led to instances of abuse in Michigan, which had among the lowest-rated forfeiture laws in the United States. The Mackinac Center believes property should only be transferred from citizens to the government after a criminal conviction is secured.
In 2015, the Michigan Legislature passed a package of laws that raises the standard of evidence before the state can take possession of property – from “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence” — as well as mandates reporting requirements for how much property was forfeited, where it came from, and whether a person was charged with a crime.
In 2016, Gov. Snyder signed a bill eliminating an upfront bond requirement. Citizens no longer have to pay 10 percent of the worth of their property in order to contest a seizure – which previously happened regardless of whether they were charged with a crime.
In 2019, Michigan joined the 15 other states which require a criminal conviction prior to civil asset forfeiture when lawmakers passed House Bills 4001 and 4002 and Senate Bill 2.
Ultimately, the state should ban civil forfeiture altogether – and replace it with criminal forfeiture. In states like New Mexico and Nebraska, which have eliminated civil forfeiture, a court decides if a person is guilty of a crime and then determines what assets were gained from criminal activity before ultimately forfeiting property over to the government.