Michigan lawmakers are considering a package of bills reforming the state’s rules on civil asset forfeiture, protecting citizens’ due process and property rights.
The bills, approved by the Michigan House of Representatives, are being debated by the state Senate. If approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder (R), law enforcement agencies would add new reporting requirements and increase the burden of proof required to seize private property from citizens.
State Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says the reform package has three main goals.
“There are three purposes in the package of civil asset forfeiture bills here in Michigan: uniformity, accountability, and transparency,” he said. “Currently, there is no uniform reporting required, there are different types of forfeiture. What we are doing is creating a system whereby any forfeiture must be reported, no matter where you are in the state of Michigan or what agency you work from, and all must be reported in the same way.”
More Data Needed
Before reforming the state’s law enforcement practices further, Kesto says more empirical evidence is needed on the number and value of civil asset seizures.
“As far as a complete repeal of Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture goes, I don’t know if that is the right direction—maybe it is—but we can’t make that decision without clear information from these agencies,” he said. “Police often say it’s an important tool to connect the dots on major drug transactions, and yet, we don’t want agencies willy-nilly seizing property either.”
A Good First Step
Jarrett Skorup, a policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, says the package is a good first step towards identifying and correcting the state’s problem with policing for profit.
“The bill package that the Michigan legislature has so far are very good,” he said. “Particularly on the transparency side of things, Michigan is among the worst-rated in civil asset forfeiture laws.
Skorup says the state needs to continue to protect citizens’ rights.
“If you look at other states, the majority of time civil forfeiture issues never make it to trial,” he said. “But usually, whether they’re guilty or not, they’ll pay a fine to get it back—and that’s the system that we currently have and the one we have to get rid of.”
Jen Kuznicki ([email protected]) writes from Hawks, Michigan.
Brent Skorup, George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal, “Ensuring Eighth Amendment Protection From Excessive Fines In Civil Asset Forfeiture Cases”: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/ensuring-eighth-amendment-protection-excessive-fines-civil-asset-forfeiture-cases/