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Police Seized Property of Close to 1,000 People in Michigan—Without Ever Convicting Them of Crimes

Thanks to a new state law, agencies now have to report how extensively civil asset forfeiture is used to take people’s stuff.

Asset forfeiturePhotographerlondon / Dreamstime.comClose to 1,000 people in Michigan had their property seized by police or government officials last year even though they were neither convicted nor sometimes even charged with committing a crime.

That's the bad news. The good news is that we have this information at all. In 2015 Michigan passed legislation that mandated local law enforcement agencies report more information to the state about the extent of their seizures. The Department of State Police just released its first report that encompassed all agencies for a full calendar year.

Law enforcement agencies across the state seized more than $13 million in cash and property in 2017. And while State Police Director Kriste Etue claims in the report's introduction that all those seized assets were "amassed by drug traffickers," that's not really what the numbers show.

Tom Gantert, managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential, which is published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, drilled down into the report and noted that 956 people who had their money or property seized last year were not convicted of a crime. Of those, 736 people were not even charged with a crime for which property forfeiture was permitted. And yet such forfeiture happened, quite frequently. To put it in larger context, it happened to 14 percent of the people who had their stuff taken.

Police and prosecutors are able to essentially legally steal people's property under the process of civil asset forfeiture. Under "civil" forfeiture, criminal convictions are not necessary. Instead, police and prosecutors basically accuse the property itself of being connected to a crime. Using lower evidentiary thresholds and complicated bureaucratic and administrative procedures, civil forfeiture subverts the typical legal process by forcing citizens to prove themselves and their property innocent of crimes rather than forcing prosecutors to prove guilt.

Thus citizens can have their stuff taken by the government without being first convicted. There's been a growing backlash to the use of civil asset forfeiture, and some states are attempting to restrain the police by requiring convictions before money and property can be taken. Michigan does not currently require a conviction, but some lawmakers are working on changing the rules. The state's House passed a bill in May that would require convictions before forcing somebody to forfeit property and cash valued at less than $50,000. It has not yet been taken up by the state Senate.

Perhaps knowing that more than one out of 10 folks who have their property taken from them aren't even convicted might be helpful information to convince senators to vote for change. One of the difficulties in pushing for asset forfeiture reforms is that poor transparency requirements have left citizens unclear about how extensive the practice is. Police and prosecutors typically insist that the seizures are all from drug traffickers and other criminals. Without strong reporting guidelines, citizens have no way of knowing the true circumstances of the seizures and where the money is going.

Now, thanks to Michigan's new reporting law, we do know, and it's not a good look for Michigan. Gantert notes that there are currently more than 2,000 folks in Michigan who face having their property seized while charges are still pending. If the law isn't changed, some of those folks may lose their property or money even if they're never convicted.

Bonus links: Damon Root explains how civil asset forfeiture abuse has roots in Michigan from a 1996 Supreme Court decision. The Supreme Court will be hearing a case next term that may give it an opportunity to rein in the practice.

Photo Credit: Photographerlondon / Dreamstime.com

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  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    They need a LOT of money to keep replacing those misbehaving body cameras.

  • Rhywun||

    State Police Director Kriste Etue claims in the report's introduction that all those seized assets were "amassed by drug traffickers,"

    How is that not an admission that the state is profiting from drug trafficking - encouraging it, even?

  • Don't look at me.||

    It is an admission that more money is needed for enforcement.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    How is calling people who have neither been charged nor convicted of drug trafficking "drug traffickers" not libel?

  • Rath||

    Because not being charged/convicted doesn't mean the statement is false. The proof level might not rise to beyond a reasonable doubt, or the proof might be the result of an investigation that ran afoul of a rule, or rely on a source that the police aren't willing to burn for the prosecution.

  • IceTrey||

    Hey even the Feds take taxes from federally illegal cannabis operations.

  • Calidissident||

    I didn't get a response on this yesterday, so I figure I'll post again - does anyone know if Kavanaugh has opined anywhere on civil asset forfeiture? I'm hopeful that SCOTUS will take a case on it and knock it down soon, but I'm unsure as to who on the court would vote for that beyond Thomas, Gorsuch, and Sotomayor.

  • Jima||

    I would take the numbers reported as the barest minimum of actual improper forfeitures. There's plenty of incentive to hide the true extent of the theft. There's no way to defend this state sponsored depredation on it's citizens' assets. It's just plain old stealing.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Police and prosecutors typically insist that the seizures are all from drug traffickers and other criminals. Without strong reporting guidelines, citizens have no way of knowing the true circumstances of the seizures and where the money is going.

    Surely you're not implying that the King's Men would ever lie about the people who are having their stuff stolen? What are you, some kind of cynic?

  • Longtobefree||

    So it seems that if a man with a gun takes your stuff, that alone is 'due process'?

    I cannot find a Supreme Court ruling that asset forfeiture, without conviction, is constitutional.
    I am sure Hinn has several, maybe he will post one or two?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Any asset that wasn't in common use in 1789....

    /Hihn

  • Happy Chandler||

    Austin v United States.

    Bennis v Michigan stated that being innocent isn't a defense against having your property forfeited (in that case, a guy picked up a prostitute. Police seized the car. The guy's wife said that she was co-owner, and she was losing her property without due process. The court (Rehnquist, with O'Conner, Scalia, Thomas and Ginsburg concurring) said tough shit.

  • retiredfire||

    Both of those involved a conviction - one a guilty plea - and the forfeiture was ordered by a court.
    That doesn't seem to fit the gist of this article.
    Hopefully someone will take one of these non-charged, non-convicted seizures as far as the SCOTUS and get a proper ruling.
    A court ordering asset forfeiture seems to satisfy due process. Simply stating that the police think that the asset was crime-related, or in some cases a "public nuisance", but without the ability of the owner to defend that position, to a judge, doesn't provide due process, at all.

  • Demosthenes||

    Whoa now, Scott. Take it down a notch -- commentariat is pretty pro-cops around here nowadays. Surely the liberal MSM ginned up this story too.

  • mpercy||

    While civil forfeiture is an abomination, it would be marginally less so if 100% of all forfeiture proceeds went into victim restitution funds rather than into LEO coffers or even general funds.

    This would remove a lot of the incentive to grab the cash--what cops are going to do something that only benefits victims?

  • VinniUSMC||

    But only marginally.

    Fuck civil forfeiture.

  • Happy Chandler||

    This should go for all fines as well. Money should go to a special fund so there is no particular incentive for the police to collect money. Put it in a big pool that gets added to tax refunds at the end of the year.

  • BYODB||


    There's been a growing backlash to the use of civil asset forfeiture, and some states are attempting to restrain the police by requiring convictions before money and property can be taken. Michigan does not currently require a conviction, but some lawmakers are working on changing the rules.


    This is bullshit, just FYI. It's patently against the Constitution of the United States thus it is already against the rules. What we're really talking about is the government trying to find a way to make something that is completely against the law of the land and create a process that legitimizes it in the eyes of the people.


    It's a disgusting and flagrant violation of basic civil rights.

  • target||

    "Close to 1,000 people in Michigan had their property seized
    956 people who had their money or property seized last year were not convicted of a crime.
    Of those, 736 people were not even charged with a crime for which property forfeiture was permitted

    Perhaps knowing that more than one out of 10 folks who have their property taken from them aren't even convicted might be helpful information..."

    what? I don't follow the Math. Shouldn't that be 9 out of 10?

  • Don't look at me.||

    Too hard to do math when outraged.

  • Reverend Draco||

    Allow me to fix your headline for you:

    Police Robbed Close to 1,000 People in Michigan

  • Darr247||

    "Perhaps knowing that more than one out of 10 folks who have their property taken from them aren't even convicted"

    Don't you mean 9 out of 10?
    'cause I don't see where it says 9,000 people had property seized.

  • jcwconsult||

    Civil forfeiture without a conviction of a related crime is governmental larceny. All the officers and officials involved should be prosecuted for larceny and end up in jail if convicted of the thefts.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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