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.
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.
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.
Attorney Morris has enjoyed a very successful and distinguished career as a trial lawyer providing high quality legal representation in the area of state and federal criminal defense for 20 years. He is known for his trial preparation by fellow attorneys, judges and clients alike. As a trial attorney, he is dedicated to attaining justice in every case, and is prepared to take on complex legal issues with success. Barton and his law firm pride themselves on obtaining results for their clients that other attorneys cannot.
Not only does Barton Morris have extensive experience, he also engages in continuing legal education to provide the highest quality legal services. Barton has received specialized scientific training through the American Chemical Society. He attended the prestigious Trial Lawyers College and serves on its Alumni Association Board of Directors. Barton Morris is also a board member of several distinguished legal associations including the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys, and the DUI Defense Lawyer’s Association Justice Foundation. He is also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and has also graduated from their National Criminal Defense Trial College in Macon, Georgia.
Barton Morris was chosen as a Top Lawyer of Metro Detroit for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2019 and 2020 for DUI/DWI and criminal defense by DBusiness Magazine and Hour Magazine. Barton Morris was also chosen as a Super Lawyer in Criminal Defense for 2014-2020 and Barton Morris is the only Lawyer in Michigan designated by the American Chemical Society as a “Forensic Lawyer-Scientist”