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Joe Luppino-Esposito | August 21, 2015
Michigan is another step closer to making major reforms to its civil asset forfeiture laws. The Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved several measures that makes civil asset forfeiture more transparent and ensures justice for innocent property owners. An even larger package had already been passed by the House, meaning that the five bills in the Senate, once passed by that body, require only the signature of the governor to become law.
As the law currently stands, there is a much lower burden for prosecutors to justify the taking of property. Under provisions in this package of bills, the state will need to show “clear and convincing” evidence that the property that was seized by police was actually connected to a crime. The inherent problem that supporters of civil asset forfeiture face is they argue that civil forfeiture is an essential tool to halt crime, but then reject any attempts to ensure that the property taken was actually used for criminal activity. The proposed laws in Michigan would help to remedy this problem.
Michigan’s reforms also include new transparency measures. Law enforcement agencies would have robust reporting requirements regarding what they have seized and if the property is being used, disposed of, or returned.
The effort in Michigan is led by Fix Forfeiture, a group that Right on Crime is working with, along with our allies on the right, including American for Tax Reform. Jorge Marin of ATR testified before the Senate and explained the need for reform:
“It has become clear that the intended effect of targeting the worst offenders has been lost in a murky system in which reporting is rare and inaccurate,” he said, adding, “These bills would allow the Legislature to determine the scope of civil asset forfeiture and its use.”
If the bills are signed into law, Michigan will join New Mexico and Montana as major civil asset forfeiture reform states in 2015. New Mexico moved to ban property forfeiture without a criminal conviction, making it one of the strongest laws in the country. Montana passed the same criminal conviction requirement and also raises the burden of proof on the state to the same “clear and convincing” standard proposed in Michigan.
Joe Luppino-Esposito is a policy analyst for Right on Crime.