Michigan Legislators Consider Making It More Difficult for Police to Steal

Michigan legislators have introduced a pair of bills that would reform the state’s asset forfeiture laws, which currently enable law enforcement agencies to seize property from innocent people easily and profitably. Michigan police departments and district attorneys have padded their budgets to the tune of $70 million in the last three years via forfeiture, according to Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice,* a law firm that litigates asset forfeiture.

HB 5212 would require a criminal conviction before the police and prosecutors can forfeit property. Such a change is desirable because Michigan police and prosecutors have an unfortunate habit of taking peoples' stuff even when the criminal charges that supposedly justify the forfeiture are dropped, dismissed, or otherwise jettisoned.

HB 5081, meanwhile, would require seizing agencies to compile detailed reports on their forfeiture activities. Such a change is desirable because, apart from aggregates and anecdotes, information (on what is being seized, from whom, and why) is hard to come by. Also, transparency may encourage police to use funds more judiciously.

From Michigan Capitol Confidential:

"Asset forfeiture was sold as a needed tool for law enforcement to attack drug kingpins and gang leaders," says Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), sponsor of HB 5213. "[But] too often, law enforcement uses the current asset forfeiture law to take tens of millions of dollars every year, mostly from low-level users and small-time dealers.”

Of course, the law routinely ensnares innocent people. We find out about them when they go to court. But some not-inconsequential number of forfeitures involve innocent owners who opt against a legal fight to recover items worth less than the cost of a lawyer.

Still, Irwin’s statement is probably an accurate description of many forfeitures. Law enforcement was given the power to forfeit property sans criminal conviction in order to target notorious underworld characters and their conspicuous displays of wealth (for the children! lest they grow up idolizing drug lords). Instead, police use civil forfeiture to bust low-level offenders—at the expense of other duties.

Unfortunately, while both the bills would make for improved policy, neither would put forfeiture abuse to bed. Stephen Dunn, a Troy, Michigan-based attorney suggests to the Michigan Capitol Confidential that more complete reform:

requires notification to the property owner within a certain amount of time, criminal proceedings within a timeframe, the release of seized funds if they are required to pay for legal defense, a way for property to be returned and litigation costs paid if a defendant is not successfully prosecuted by the state.

Additionally, neither bill addresses federal equitable sharing, a program that allows local police to turn their cases over to the feds. Police do so in order to sidestep state forfeiture laws that contain stronger protections for property owners than federal law. As the federal government is behind some of the most officious abuses of forfeiture in Michigan, this is not a small oversight.   

But the perfect need not be the enemy of the good. Either or both bills will improve prospects for property owners unfairly separated from their belongings.

*I work part-time for the Institute for Justice on a project unrelated to forfeiture.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Just another politician making it harder to make a buck.

  • Sevo||

    You reckon the Libertarian Party could find recruits in the PD?

  • croaker||

    Doubtful. If you have too many brain cells, you won't be hired by any police department.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    All of the reforms mentioned are good but inadequate.

    Better would be putting seized assets into the state's general fund or a dedicated fund that would be returned to all of the states citizens on a per capita basis yearly and make department liable for triple the cost associated with improperly seized assets.

    In short, asset forfeiture absolutely should not be used as a source of supplemental income for the seizing agency and they should have enhanced liability for illegal seizures

  • Jordan||

    Even better would be to disallow asset forfeiture, period.

  • IDPNDNT||

    I disagree.

    There are valid cases where asset forfeiture is useful.

    Preventing transfer during a pending trial or using your victims cash to fund your defense etc.

    I just think there needs to be hefty penalties for improper seizure.

  • Sevo||

    "There are valid cases where asset forfeiture is useful.
    Preventing transfer during a pending trial or using your victims cash to fund your defense etc."

    Forfeiture not required. Put a hold on it.

  • IDPNDNT||

    That's a fair point.

    Confused the terms.

  • Dweebston||

    make department liable for triple the cost associated with improperly seized assets.

    Chilling effect! You don't want to impair our boys' capacity for fighting crime by robbing them of a vital funding mechanism, do you?

  • croaker||

    I want these mental midgets with guns as impaired as possible.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    HB 5213 would require a criminal conviction before the police and prosecutors can forfeit property.

    How could they endanger the precious little children by imposing such unreasonable limits on noble hard working law enforcement professionals?

  • croaker||

    I want to drag every asshole who pulls out the "for the children" card out into the street in front of his house and put a bullet in his head in front of his family and neighbors. Then bill his family for the bullet.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Its the labor bill that really kills you.

  • VicRattlehead||

    I wonder do you get a tax write off for public services for this as well, and since it is a public service can you file to get the taxes back on the bullet?

  • Stilgar||

    And who will enforce the law and its requirements? I can't wait for all those "detailed reports on their forfeiture activities" to roll in.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Here's a crazy notion. What if police officers and prosecutors were charged with criminal theft if they seized assets from someone who was later found not guilty or not prosecuted at all?

  • IDPNDNT||

    Another crazy notion would be simply not selling/using assets until after a trial has concluded.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Who is going to charge them? Good luck with that. The only way a minarchy gets even close to working is to de-monopolize the prosecutorial function.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    If this paper was previous discussed on here, I apologize; however, not that ideologues on both sides of the spectrum were equal offenders when it came to the selective bias in their analyses of the data. On the other hand, it seems to me from a close reading of the study that the authors are really critical of the so-called "consensus" on climate change and strongly insinuate that the bias they predicted is at work. It also sticks a knife in the back of the smug Proggie "reality-based community" meme in that they note:

    There is mounting evidence that this assumption is incorrect. It includes observational studies that demonstrate that science literacy, numeracy, and education (Kahan, Peters, Wittlin, Slovic, Ouellette, Braman & Mandel 2012; Hamilton 2012; Hamilton 2011)—all of which it is plausible to see as elements or outgrowths of the critical reasoning capacities associated with System 2 information processing—are associated with more, not less, political division of the kind one would expect if individuals were engaged in motivated reasoning."
  • Heroic Mulatto||

    *note that ideologues....

  • IDPNDNT||

    In terms of the climate change debate I think progressives would find easier ground if they frame it more around pollution rather than earth warming.

    Let's face it even if the earth is warming convincing people that a 2 degree rise in temperature is going to kill them will be difficult.

    Ideologically i'm far from libertarian under the purist definition, but I think the pollution from fossil fuels is more of a pressing issue than the earth warming.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    The "left" glommed on to the Global Warming theory because it could be used to further an agenda they already had. They persist in defending it, despite the undisputed fact that real world observations do not support their predictions, because it discredits their agenda.

    From a pollution standpoint, the world (at least the "free" world) is cleaner now than it has been since prior to the industrial revolution.

  • Sevo||

    ..."They persist in defending it, despite the undisputed fact that real world observations do not support their predictions, because it discredits their agenda"...

    Watermelons; quite obvious.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    That's a good point. The greatest irony is that "organic" farming methods, or more properly described as "piling heaps of cow shit on your crops" are vastly more polluting than "modern" methods. All that shit runs off into lakes, rivers, and streams, which fills the water with organic nutrients that cause massive algae blooms which choke the fish living in the water by robbing them of oxygen. Likewise, shit releases tons and tons of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere.

    They can't even be consistent in what they advocate for, except death on a massive scale.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    "The "left" glommed on to the Global Warming theory because it could be used to further an agenda they already had."

    This is well said, but I would expand it by saying that it serves so many varied leftist agendas. Are you a vegetarian, animal rights leftist? Well, then you can claim that meat food production contributes more to global warming than non-meat food production. Are you a pseudo-Marxist with an irrational hatred of 'big corporations?' Well, you can point to the fact that many big corporations engage in production methods which contribute to global warming. It really has something for nearly every leftist (other than, perhaps, those allied with the trade unions of certain industries). I think there might be something to AGW in general (certainly a lot of scientists think so, and they can not all be victims of some massive group think or progressive conspiracy), but the uses of AGW as a narrative adopted by various leftists groups is pernicious.

  • RightNut||

    Look everyone, Bo took the red pill this morning!

    I kid,

  • CatoTheElder||

    The environmental movement learned a long time ago that industry does not really like to pollute. Industrial capitalists, as well as their engineers and process operators, have to breath the same air as everybody else. And they are just as inclined to enjoy nature as well. As long as the rules for air and water emissions of real pollution (i.e., NOx, SOx, CO, particulates, etc.) are equitable and reasonable, capitalism can adapt. Sure, industrial capitalists will haggle and lobby for advantage, but they can adapt. That's the last thing that the environmentalists want, and that's the beauty of treating CO2 as a pollutant. Modern capitalism is built on technologies that emit CO2. Severe constraints on the emission of CO2 promise to kill capitalism. But the really beautiful thing about the anthropogenic climate change argument is that it is global in scope. Therefore, local control of CO2 emissions is inadequate to obtain any benefit of 'pollution' control. Instead, a global governing body is necessary, and this governing body must control the basic technology that has been responsible for capitalism.

  • sasob||

    Exactly! And I might add that modern capitalism is built on the harvesting, harnessing, and use of cheap and abundant energy - while communism, socialism, etc. is built on the harvesting, harnessing, and use of cheap and abundant labor, otherwise known as slaves.

  • CatoTheElder||

    I think there is a huge flaw in the conclusions from this study. I cannot be sure about how bad it is because the paper does not provide the introductory text to gun control question.

    The huge flaw is that, before reading the skin cream question, people knew absolutely nothing of a quantitative nature about the skin cream's effectiveness. They had no reason to doubt the researchers' intellectual honesty.

    This is not true when the same data are presented on gun control. Many people know that the numbers do not support gun control, and that gun control advocates are intellectually dishonest. Many other people know that, if the benevolent state would just disarm everybody, gun control would eliminate violence, and that the NRA is just a propaganda machine.

    The study posits the "Identity-protective Cognition Thesis", which treats cultural conflict as disabling the faculties that members of the public use to make sense of decision-relevant science.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Highly numerate people have witnessed numerous examples of outright intellectual dishonesty and utter incompetence in handling statistical data. Unless the survey instrument expressly instructs participants to respond based solely upon the data at hand and to ignore what they already know about the issue of gun control, it is reasonable for numerate people to doubt the validity of the data. For one thing, one must be completely innumerate to believe that almost 300 US cities have recently enacted bans on concealed weapons. There aren't even that many US cities with population over 100000.

  • CatoTheElder||

    The really shocking conclusion of the study, which appears to be valid, is that 59% of all participants were unable to correctly analyze a 2x2 contingency table to correctly answer a True-False question.

    In other words, when confronted with a question that requires the use of simple arithmetic and logic, the typical American will answer incorrectly if he has no opinion or stake in the matter.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Question: why didn't the study provide the gun control introductory text?

  • CatoTheElder||

    The really shocking conclusion of the study, which appears to be valid, is that 59% of all participants were unable to correctly analyze a 2x2 contingency table to correctly answer a True-False question.

    In other words, when confronted with a question that requires the use of simple arithmetic and logic, the typical American will answer incorrectly if he has no opinion or stake in the matter.

  • Firstname||

    Their 90%+ conviction rates are due in great part from seizing assets to keep defendants from hiring competent legal council. This has created a two-tier justice system ... one for the 1% and another one for the rest of us.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    So, explain to me how this creates a two-tier justice system? If you seize the 1%'s assets, how can they afford to defend themselves more than a 2%er or a 15%er or a 72%er?

    Your logic is faulty.

  • CatoTheElder||

    The State seldom seizes the assets of the 1%. Of course, the assets of the 1% seldom have direct connection with criminal activity except in cases like Madoff.

    What's worse is that the 1% is seldom prosecuted for its crime. Case in point: former Goldman CEO, NJ Governor, and NJ Senator John Corzine, thief and swindler extraordinaire, guilty as sin and free as a bird.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    So the seizing of assets doesn't create a "two-tiered justice system", not prosecuting the politically connected creates a "two-tiered justice system".

    His logic is still faulty.

  • CatoTheElder||

    I think the statement is an inartful appropriation of the 1%'er meme rather than illogical.

    The Tenaha, Texas pigs seized poor people's money without fear of reprisal, and got away with it for years. If they tried that bullshit with a 1%'er, they'd be looking for a new career in landfill operation or sewage treatment. Of course, the Tenaha pigs were fairly confident that no self-respecting 1%'er would be caught dead in their little fascist fiefdom in flyover country. What they didn't know was that a poor person could lawyer up after the pigs created enough victims to create the basis for a class action suit. The Tenaha pigs were such deluded psychopaths that they literally thought God guided their actions, so they must have thought themselves protected from human judgment.

    However, the Tenaha pigs didn't oppress the 99%. They targeted the bottom 25% who they thought could not obtain redress. The whole 1% meme just doesn't work here at all. But it does apply in the case of Corzine, damn it.

  • Monty Crisco||

    Don't cops have better things to do?
    Than legally steal your property and money?
    No... no, they don't...
    And if you are going to fucking REWARD them for it, why the fuck would you even ask the question...
    Ah, I love me some asset forfeiture...
    Scary thing is the "cop" in the video is pretty true-to-life...

  • Mock-star||

    Oh man, Joe Biden's going to be pissed that theyre trying to limit the asset forfeiture laws that he helped push through.

  • RishJoMo||

    That jsut makes no sense at all dude.

    www.BeinAnon.tk

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