MIDLAND, Mich. — A new report from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy shows that reforms to Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture laws over the past decade have resulted in fewer people losing their property. Unfortunately, these changes have still fallen short of their goals.
Civil asset forfeiture is a process by which law enforcement can take ownership of assets that are suspected of being involved in or a result of criminal activity – typically cash or cars, but also cell phones and even homes. Over the past decade, state lawmakers have passed several reforms: more reporting and transparency, raising the standard of evidence governments must meet before taking someone’s property and requiring a conviction in criminal court, in some cases, prior to forfeiture.
These reforms have improved the forfeiture process. Over the past decade, the annual number of forfeitures is down 75% and the total value of property seized and forfeited by law enforcement has been cut in half. A higher percentage of cases get a hearing in court (rather than being forfeited automatically through administrative procedures). Overall, fewer innocent people have lost their homes or vehicles than would have without the reforms.
But there are still problems. Hundreds of people every year still lose their assets without being convicted or even charged with criminal activity. The reform laws don’t apply to all cases where forfeiture could occur. Those who have to navigate the system to keep their property or challenge allegations often face a confusing and expensive process.
“Michigan civil asset forfeiture laws have been slowly moving in the right direction to better protect people’s rights,” said Jarrett Skorup, author of the report and vice president for marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “But there are still changes lawmakers should make that would tighten up the law, close unintended loopholes and protect citizens.”
The report suggests Michigan join other states in ending civil asset forfeiture altogether. This would not prevent law enforcement from seizing property they believe was involved in a crime, but it could only be taken permanently through the criminal forfeiture process. That process provides civil rights protections for defendants alleged with a crime and would ensure that only people convicted of a crime in a court could have their property forfeited to the government.
Below is a table from the report showing recent data on forfeitures in Michigan.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government. Through our research and education programs, we challenge government overreach and advocate for a free-market approach to public policy that frees people to realize their potential and dreams.
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