Civil Asset Forfeiture Now Requires Criminal Conviction Under Michigan Law

On Thursday, May 9, 2019, Gov. Whitmer signed a package of three bills to reform civil asset forfeiture in a significant manner. Now Michigan law requires a criminal conviction before the police can keep money or assets worth $50,000 or less.

“I’m proud that Michigan is joining several other states in revising our civil asset forfeiture laws to increase property protections for citizens,” Whitmer said. “These bills will ensure due process and strengthen the integrity of our justice system by requiring a criminal conviction before forfeiture proceedings can begin.”

What is the current state of Michigan civil asset forfeiture laws?

This is a great and well-needed change, but there is still a problem. Currently, police are permitted to seize property if they have probable cause to suspect that it had been used for, or derived from, a controlled substance violation. Additionally, the state was legally allowed to retain the property, or sell it and give the proceeds to the law enforcement agency that seized the property.

Police will still be able to bargain for a waiver of the conviction requirement. This is persuasive because often times, the party wants their property back. For instance, the police may raid a home where suspected drug dealing occurs. They don’t find any drugs, but they may find a large amount of money and vehicles.

If they have a reasonable suspicion that the money and vehicles were drug related, they will take those assets. The person from whom the assets were “taken” (i.e. stolen) wants and perhaps needs to get his car and money back as soon as possible.

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Do these new laws solve civil asset forfeiture?

Despite the police having no case for a conviction, the claimant may waive the conviction required to settle for a portion of the money and the vehicles back. In layman’s terms, the police can still take someone’s money despite not having enough evidence for a conviction.

Just last month, Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith’s office was raided for allegedly misappropriating forfeited funds. Records indicated that Smith purchased large sums of money on things like security upgrades, food and catering, country club retirement party and even “donations” to a non-profit. These reforms come on the heels on this public case of shady forfeiture dealings by law enforcement professionals.

Barton Morris speaks about Eric Smith regarding Michigan Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform on WWJ News Radio 950

Furthermore, asset forfeiture is still ripe for police misconduct. I expect it will continue. However, the new laws will make it a little harder on them.