Civil Asset Forfeiture

Armed Robbers With Badges: 'They Took Everything'

In response to mounting reports of abuses, Michigan legislators consider forfeiture reform.


When the cops raided Ginnifer Hency's home in Smiths Creek, Michigan, in July, "they took everything," she told state legislators last Tuesday, including TV sets, ladders, her children's cellphones and iPads, even her vibrator. They found six ounces of marijuana and arrested Hency for possession with intent to deliver, "even though I was fully compliant with the Michigan medical marijuana laws," which means "I am allowed to possess and deliver." Hency, a mother of four with multiple sclerosis, uses marijuana for pain relief based on her neurologist's recommendation. She also serves as a state-registered caregiver for five other patients.

Hency's compliance with state law explains why a St. Clair County judge dismissed the charges against her. But when she asked about getting back her property, she reported, "The prosecutor came out to me and said, 'Well, I can still beat you in civil court. I can still take your stuff.'" When she heard that, Hency said, "I was at a loss. I literally just sat there dumbfounded."

Hency told her story at a meeting of the Michigan House Judiciary Committee, which was considering several bills that would make this sort of legalized larceny more difficult. She was joined by Annette Shattuck, another medical marijuana patient who was raided by the St. Clair County Drug Task Force around the same time.

"After they breached the door at gunpoint with masks, they proceeded to take every belonging in my house," Shattuck said. The cops' haul included bicycles, her husband's tools, a lawn mower, a weed whacker, her children's Christmas presents, cash (totaling $85) taken from her daughter's birthday cards, the kids' car seats and soccer equipment, and vital documents such as driver's licenses, insurance cards, and birth certificates. "How do you explain to your kids when they come home and everything is gone?" Shattuck asked. She added that her 9-year-old daughter is now afraid of the police and "cried for weeks" because the cops threatened to shoot the family dog during the raid. Although "my husband and I have not been convicted of any crime," Shattuck said, they cannot get their property back, and their bank accounts remain frozen.

Last February The Detroit Free Press highlighted various other examples of the cruel, greedy pettiness fostered by civil forfeiture laws, which allow police to take assets allegedly linked to crime without so much as filing charges, let alone obtaining a conviction. "Police seized more than $24 million in assets from Michiganders in 2013," the paper noted. "In many cases the citizens were never charged with a crime but lost their property anyway." Now a bipartisan group of state legislators is trying to reform the laws that have turned Michigan cops into robbers.

The bills, which are backed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township), would require law enforcement agencies to keep track of all forfeitures and report them to the state police,prohibit the forfeiture of vehicles used to purchase small amounts of marijuana, and raise the standard of proof for forfeitures in cases involving drugs or public nuisances. "We must bring culpability and transparency to the system and rein in the ability of police to indiscriminately seize the property of innocent citizens," Kesto says.

Michigan was one of five states that received a D–, the lowest grade awarded, in a 2010 report on forfeiture abuse from the Institute for Justice. Michigan's "preponderance of the evidence" standard, which allows the government to complete a forfeiture based on any probability greater than 50 percent that the asset is connected to a crime, was one reason for that low grade. Bills introduced by Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township) and Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Midland) would instead require "clear and convincing" evidence, which is more demanding than the current rule but not as strict as "beyond a reasonable doubt," the standard in criminal cases.

None of the bills addresses another major problem with forfeiture in Michigan: Law enforcement agencies keep 100 percent of the loot, which gives them a strong incentive to target people based on the assets they own instead of the threat they pose to public safety. Testifying before Kesto's committee on Tuesday, Charmie Gholson, founder of Michigan Moms United, argued that cops' financial stake in forfeitures helps explain why the arrest rates for consensual crimes involving drugs and prostitution are so much higher than the arrest rates for violent crimes such as rape, robbery, assault, and murder.

In Michigan, Gholson said, the arrest rate (the share of reported incidents that result in an arrest) is 82 percent for prostitution, compared to 44 percent for murder, 39 percent for felonious assault, 21 percent for robbery, and 15 percent for rape. "It's because when they catch you with a prostitute, they take your car," she said. "Civil asset forfeiture decreases public safety."

Gholson thinks money from forfeitures should go into the general fund, which would eliminate such perverse incentives. She also argues that forfeiture should require a conviction based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which would effectively abolish the practice of civil (as opposed to criminal) forfeiture. The Institute for Justice, which has been fighting forfeiture abuse for years, agrees.

Both of those reforms were recently adopted by New Mexico, which got a D+ in the 2010 Institute for Justice report. The New Mexico law also bars police and prosecutors from evading state limits on forfeiture by pursuing seizures under federal law through the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Program. Last month legislators in Montana, which like New Mexico got a D+ in 2010, likewise voted to require a conviction prior to forfeiture. But police and prosecutors in Montana will continue to keep all the proceeds from forfeitures, and they are still free to engage in joint forfeitures with the feds, which are subject to a lower evidentiary standard.

Compared to the reforms in New Mexico and Montana, the changes proposed in Michigan are pretty modest. But forfeiture critics hope the new comprehensive reporting requirement will set the stage for more ambitious reform by showing how the profit motive warps law enforcement priorities. "You need more details about how seizures are happening," Lee McGrath, legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice, told the Free Press. He said such data will expose the myth that "these forfeitures target big international criminal syndicates." McGrath called the bills "a solid first step toward the ultimate goal of ending civil forfeiture."

This article originally appeared at

NEXT: Rand Paul blasts PATRIOT Act Surveillance on Senate Floor During Last Minute Debate (UPDATE: USA Freedom Act Moves Forward in Senate)

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  1. Allowing police to commit legal robbery or theft of personal property through confiscation should be against the law in all cases, except those where there is clear and undeniable evidence that the property was obtained through an illegal means. Moreover, any confiscations that take place should be turned over to a special committee at the state or federal level that would be forced to sell all of the items confiscated in an open auction, and the money received from such sales should then be turned over to the state treasures to be spent on education and/or other programs that are specifically created to help the poor and disabled. There should not nor should their have ever been any laws passed that would create an incentive for law enforcement at the local, state, or federal level to confiscate property for their own gain.

    1. It is already against the law, since it violates the constitution. But the government has gotten away with violating the constitution in myriad ways under the doctrine of “Fuck You, That’s Why”.

    2. tl;dr: Absent criminal conviction, this is theft, pure and simple.

      But most people here already know cops are thugs.

    3. Amend this to the proceeds are split even among all citizens and it would stop. As long as someone benefits (the poor) there will be an incentive to steal. Nobody is going to miss their monthly check of .02 U.S..

      1. In my state all fines and confiscated booty go into the general fund. You don’t see many speed traps, nor do you hear much about police seizing assets. There’s no incentive (other than to be a dick).

        1. That’s certainly better than the police keeping what they stole.

          1. I’m sure there’s still plenty of the old “Give me that. I’m keeping this, and if you tell anyone I’ll arrest you.” theft, but at least there isn’t the organized and sanctioned kind.

            I remember a while ago glancing at the advice column in the local paper, and someone was asking what to do about a cop who had stolen her son’s backpack. The columnist gave the information for submitting a complaint to the local police. I wonder what happened. I imagine she was threatened with arrest daring to complain about one of the king’s men.

        2. I think I’m from the same state as you. Our cops are really not that bad. I’d say our cop asshole ratio is only a little bit higher than the general population. The civil forfeiture laws are I’m sure a big reason for this.

    4. RRiver,

      If Ron or Rand had more influence, more people would be reading this site, and paying attention to libertarian viewpoints expressed on Ron and Rands’ sites-and other libertarian and sites from politicians other than the Paul’s that lean libertarian. Then, maybe our leaders would have more of a libertarian sensibility and would be clearing some of the federal reg mountains of dreck away, and leading investigations into this kind of abuse at the State level and stopping it at the Fed level.

      This appallingly abusive system is old now, and I had forgotten about a similar article from years ago. I am noting this for discussion at a group I attend, and will find out how things are being done in this state (FL) and county (Polk). If more of us do this, rather than let it go as I did years ago while I read more of the apparently endless interesting stuff on the net, we should make progress in such a clear, black and white/justice-or-no justice situation.

  2. “Hency, a mother of four with multiple sclerosis, uses marijuana for pain relief based on her neurologist’s recommendation. She also serves as a state-registered caregiver for five other patients.”

    So did the cops and prosecutors in her case go home after a hard day’s work, tell their spouses, “oh, what a day! but at least I made a difference!” And then plop into bed for a good night’s rest free of nightmares?

    1. I have this vision of them laying in there ill gotten goods pleasuring themselves.

      1. I have a vision of a police chief pleasuring himself with the confiscated vibrator and chipping his teeth.

        1. You have disturbing visions indeed.

    2. multiple sclerosis, uses marijuana for pain relief based on her neurologist’s recommendation.

      “Fucking hippies use any excuse to get high.”

    3. Exactly.

      Such heroes.

    4. No, it can’t be that easy. After a long day of fighting the scourge of marijuana, they probably take a nice long drag on a cigarette and then get blackout drunk. Because that’s the government-approved way to self-medicate!

      1. I’m sure they smoke it themselves. I highly doubt there is any drug testing for police officers in Michigan.

  3. Isn’t there some old,yellowing piece of paper that says this is illegal? I think I heard of it as a child.May have been a story my grandfather told me.

    1. It was written like a hundred years ago and nobody understands it anyway.

      1. So,it’s written in a dead language?

        1. Yes, it was based on the now-forgotten principles of something called the rule of law, and natural rights.

          1. Maybe there’s lost stone we can find and use to interpret the writing..

            1. I found that lost stone a while back, and turned it over to the Supreme Court, and all 9 of them used the stone to scratch their butt-holes with it. Oh well… I am hoping that they all catch a bad strain of E. Coli from each other, and fall over dead. One can always hope.

        2. did it start with e plebnista?

          1. I did not recognize those words, you said them so badly, without meaning.

  4. The idiom ‘license to steal’ is no expressed as ‘badge to steal’.
    Badger: vt, to use ones badge to forcibly obtain others property.

    1. Its proper name is “Treason for Profit’.

  5. OT,re: patriot act,I just heard ‘Morning Joe’ say during times of war we have to give up some of our rights. He used the example of Lincoln suspending habeas corpus.He must have forgot that was over turned. I’ll bet he would have been fine the the interment of the Japanese -Americans.

    1. Of course he would. I took a class once with a Navy commander in it. He talked at lunch one day about how the constitution needed to bend a little when it came to fighting the war on drugs. Times of war, eh? So I guess the war on poverty would legitimize a host of actions by the state.

      1. Like giving the poor the chance to experience TSA-style groping while walking on the street.

      2. war on drugs,war on terror,war on women,war on obesity ,at this point,what different”s does it make?

      3. No boy-genius,that Navy Commander.

    2. Habeas corpus can be suspended in time or “invasion or insurrection” when required by “public safety.”

      Lincoln and his Congress went further and actually immunized federal officials from *any* kind of legal action based on their arrests – suspending not only habeas corpus as they were authorized to do but suspending other writs for whose suspension the Constitution made no provision.

      1. especially suits for damages.

      2. True,and yet,it still is not a valid example of why they need the patriot act.

      3. I believe the Supreme Court (packed with Southerners) also ruled that the President could not suspend Habeas Corpus himself, that only Congress could do it. Lincoln ignored that.

        1. The Constitution pretty clearly provides the power to suspend habeas corpus only to Congress. What Lincoln did was even more egregious, he delegated the power to his generals to decide to suspend habeas corpus. That’s what the Court overturned.

          1. It was Chief Justice Taney on circuit, and Lincoln ignored him.

            1. How many divisions does the Supreme Court have?

        2. So Obama does have some things in common with Lincoln after all…

      4. It is too bad a better man couldn’t have been the leader during that time period.

        Slavery was ending one way or another, Lincoln was an intellectually and morally weak tyrant who fucked the country beyond repair.

  6. Cue Lee Greenwood. Let’s get all teary eyed about living in the greatest country in the world.

    1. You should see the other countries.

  7. Hmmmmmmmmmm………….

    According to police, the officers told Fischer and his older brother, Brandon, to leave their stalled car and move to higher ground. Some kind of confrontation ensued and Nehemiah Fischer was killed. Brandon Fischer was not hurt. He was arrested on suspicion of assault.…..g-flooding

    1. Which is worse for the Guardian:

      White Christian clergyman, or
      American with gun?

    2. I’m assuming President Obama is about to weigh in on this one. Becuz that is what he does, right? And, Al Sharpton? Is he on his way? Becuz every life matters.

      1. the slogan is Black lives matter.

  8. …her 9-year-old daughter is now afraid of the police…

    So some good came of this. Can we get her a subscription to Reason or would the cops seize that too?

    1. I would imagine seeing Reason magazine laying out in plain sight is now probable cause.

      1. “No! No officer! I am just holding it for a friend! No, I can’t even read!”

  9. ‘Well, I can still beat you in civil court. I can still take your stuff.’

    Well, I can still murder you in your sleep you thieving little shit.

    The only reason they’re doing it is because they can.

    1. Often when I read of such egregious cases of police maleficence I wonder how long it will be before an abused citizen, after finding out that the law supports the criminal activity and not his or her rights, will visit punishment upon the perpetrators.

      1. I cannot believe it has not happened already.

        1. I’m sure it has, but it’s been downplayed as something random. Wouldn’t want people to get any ideas.

          1. That’s what I figure. Anybody who did something like that would undoubtedly be “revealed” to be a child molesting nut job.

            1. Sounds like what some people say happened with Christopher Dorner down in southern Cali.

              1. He was a cop to start with, wasn’t he?

      2. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if that started happening.

      3. I hope it happens and I hope I am on the jury.

  10. Talk of forfeitures going to the general fund is a step, but ultimately the practice must end completely. Civil forfeiture is simply a case of a law passed in a fit of “We know these people are guilty of something, but we can’t prove it.” Makes for dramatic Action Hero movies, and bad government. The same thing applies to the kind of “We won’t go to trial on the charges, but we’ll convict you of perjury for denying them” crap that got (for example) Martha Stewart. We need to go back to a standard of “If you won’t go to trial or the charges are dismissed, then sucks to be you, Mr. Prosecutor”.

    1. The American people seem to be generally disposed toward bending the rules to get “the bad guys” if legal means aren’t enough. I saw the movie “The Connection” yesterday about the drug trade in France in the 70’s and when the cops start planting evidence and ignoring probable cause the audience thought it was great.

      1. The general pubic is naive-as I was until I got arrested for nothing in 2006.

        1. That was a Freudian slip,It swear supposed to read “public”

    2. I don’t understand why government is allowed to file civil suits at all. It seems that for government to punish a person, there should be clear guilt (beyond a reasonable doubt). This ‘50.001%’ standard doesn’t make sense.

      1. Fuck you, that’s why.

  11. The biggest problem I have with prosecutors is that they’re breathing.

  12. Where I live judges are politicians and they run for office first as prosecutors. It sounds like and essentially is democracy and that word means fair to the majority.
    Even when they become the minority or the one whose balls are being broken, most people still don’t understand that democracies suck because you know democracy is good and how can you argue against democracy.

    1. Democracy is two wolves and a sheep agreeing on what’s for dinner.

      1. Sounds like we need more well-armed sheep disputing the outcome.

        1. Baa! Ram you!

  13. 4 kids and MS too???? Does she not have enough problems already? Guess it’s true what Barnie Frank says: “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

    1. Government is the hammer used to pound the nail.

      1. I’m getting tired of being a nail.

    2. The M stands for milf, I know, but what’s the S for?

      1. Slut?

        1. In your case Stupid.

  14. In Michigan, Gholson said, the arrest rate (the share of reported incidents that result in an arrest) is 82 percent for prostitution, compared to 44 percent for murder, 39 percent for felonious assault, 21 percent for robbery, and 15 percent for rape. “It’s because when they catch you with a prostitute, they take your car,”

    There’s another, probably more important reason: Because of the nature of how these incidents are investigated, it’s much easier to arrest a plausible suspect for some kinds than others. In prostitution, it’s much easier to make the accus’n, and the accus’n isn’t considered so serious, so they’re very free w taking people away. In murder, assault, & robbery, there’s not as likely to be a plausible suspect visible, & the charge is considered much more serious. In rape the charge is very serious & often less credible.

  15. People should start naming the abusers publicly. Because when their kids come home from school crying because the other kids are calling their dad a theif that steals people stuff they will change their ways.

    1. Bullying! Watch those kids’ cop parent(s) start harassing the “bullies'” parents mercilessly.

  16. This has become the norm. I’ll bet 1/2 the stuff confiscated never gets to the police station.

  17. Armed Robbers With Badges: ‘They Took Everything’
    In response to mounting reports of abuses, Michigan legislators consider forfeiture reform.

    The above being the article’s headline, “reform” is very long overdue.That having been said, I respectfully suggest the following. Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting.

  18. how about simply prohibiting asset seizure without “beyond a reasonable doubt” standards, AND a criminal conviction in a court of competent jurisdiction? Used to be the getaway car could be taken if they caught the perp still with it. If they caught him elsewhere,they could not just take the car unless thay had probable cause to believe some of the loot/body/guns involved in the crime are likely to be inside it. It could be held as evidence until after tiral.. if the guy skates, he gets the car back. If he goes uptown, the car goes bye bye as well. Public auctions relocate such assets, the procees generally going to a common fund, and not to the police organisation that cadged the car. Even when assets are seized in the raid, or elsewhere, they should not be disposed of until the accused has been convicted, AND the clear connexion with the car is established as part of the trial. We do have a Constitution that guarantees our right to justice…. which includes our being secure in pur persons, papers, houses, and effects.

  19. “Armed Robbers With Badges”

    Now you’re catching on!

  20. Only traitors wage war on fellow citizens, the traitors with badges need a speedy trial then execution. There is no excuse, they need to be taken out of circulation. What a pity those in charge are happy to promote treason, they need their trial as well.

  21. Boycott those police auctions, where they’re selling stolen goods.

    1. There’s plenty of greedy people without conscience that love when those looking to buy have too much conscience to bid on property violently stolen from fellow citizens. Keeps prices low.

    2. Boycott the fuckin police period!

  22. “Forfeiture reform.”

    Jacob, is that like when armed state thugs show up at the door of a poor person who can’t pay their rent and kick them out of their house on behalf of their landlord? Or am I thinking of something else?

    1. You mean when someone agrees to pay rent in exchange for a place to live and then breaks that contract? There are 2 choices in that case. The landlord can get a baseball bat and try to force them to live up to their end of the agreement or they can let the police do it. I would “slightly” prefer the latter.

      As a side note the stupid in your comment is palpable. You can’t forfeit something you don’t own and have no right to which is the case when you squat in an apartment without paying rent.

      1. So, in your preferred scenario I trust that these fascist agents of the state are to be funded by something other than taxes– because I’ve heard that taxes are a big no-no in these circles.

        1. There is no need for police to do the kicking out. Hire a security firm to do it.

          Only problem is the police and government in general get real upset when their monopoly on force is questioned. Easier for all involved to just use them.

          P.S. You’re a fucking moron.

          1. Perfectly legitimate response.

        2. Well not sure why taxes come into this but my personal opinion is government should be funded on a voluntary basis. If we can’t get enough people to pay what is needed to support a police force then I guess the people have voted for anarchy and who am I to argue? The other advantage of that is if your precious government decides to harass and abuse some family because they don’t like their parenting style I can write a check for zero next year to make my displeasure clear.

          Still you are deflecting from the main point here. Removing someone from your own property because they are not allowed to be there and because they violated a contract is not in the same multiverse as government asset forfeiture. Such an assertion is infinitely stupid even using you as the universal unit of measure for stupidity.

          1. on a side note. I would love to see government at all levels effectively have to do funding drives every year. Everyone else has to metaphorically suck my dick in exchange for my money why shouldn’t they have to? That would introduce an element of market forces to government and possibly make them a lot more responsive.

  23. Forfeiture laws like so many other laws started with the best of intentions, but as always happens, they have been used to abuse the public. If there really any difference between what happened to this family than those in Nazi Germany? The only difference is the police did not send them off to be killed. The fact the prosecutor still opted to fight to keep their property after the charges were dropped only demonstrates our system is no longer about justice or truth. Every state legislature needs to reform or repeal these laws. If police do not wish to been seen as social pariahs they need to stop acting like jack booted, storm troopers.

  24. As a NM resident, I was unaware of the bad forfiture record of my third world home. Bad media reportage? I was aware of the smash and grab robberies and burglaries every time drugs became available for sale. Funny how the two things coincided. Slightly OT! The traffic Dept is a bit screwy. They threatened my loss of car registration because I paid a ticket too prompty. I paid it before it was entered into the computer system so it never showed up as paid. So, yes I am leery of their competence.

  25. Just wait until the tables turn when the people finally have had enough and burn the pig’s houses to the ground — with them inside, of course. Go fire!

  26. I have to judge the legislators who passed those laws to be incompetent morons, and the states Supreme Court to be the same for allowing this to contine.

  27. Civil forfeiture feels like the Patriot Act: once it’s there, you can’t get rid of it.

    A state legislature could just say to police who confiscate property, “You can’t do that anymore. It’s illegal.” The disturbing thing is that even if a legislature made civil forfeiture illegal, police would continue to do it. How do we know that? This article shows that police treat legal marijuana as illegal marijuana. The relationship between the law and police behavior has broken down.

    Thanks for this article. Keep writing on this subject, and keep publicizing the Institute for Justice’s efforts.

  28. You know how you stopped this you find out the names of every cops involved and you hunt them down like an animal. put the fear of God into of them. I guarantee they will stop.

  29. You know how you stopped this you find out the names of every cops involved and you hunt them down like an animal. put the fear of God into of them. I guarantee they will stop.

  30. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  31. I have no idea why the the Government can sue in CIVIL court (disputes between civilians), as they are not civilians by definition they are the government, and even is they were what civil tort allows me to confiscate my neighbor’s shit an make him prove he deserves it back?

  32. I have no idea why the the Government can sue in CIVIL court (disputes between civilians), as they are not civilians by definition they are the government, and even is they were what civil tort allows me to confiscate my neighbor’s shit an make him prove he deserves it back?

  33. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  34. Can we not wonder why the trust in our police and judicial system has gone the way of the Dodo. “The prosecutor came out to me and said, ‘Well, I can still beat you in civil court. I can still take your stuff.'”
    What is wrong with this picture, how many times will this guy get away with this until someone snaps and starts shooting up court houses, which has happened before. The draconian laws put into effect in the 1980-90’s are being abused to the point now that people are starting to fight back. We should put police and prosecutors in prison for stealing innocent citizens belongings.Why not, they are…

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