In 2013, Laurie Snyder was stunned when police raided her home. Living in a small town a little way north of Grand Rapids, MI, it was the last thing she was expecting to happen. Back then, Snyder was a caregiver who used medical marijuana—something which had been legal in Michigan since 2008. She grew it for herself as well as three others.
Never having been in trouble with the police before, Snyder was shocked. “I just was blown away that the police—it was like they came in and robbed me and said, ‘Have a great day!’ and left, and I was like—what just happened?”
The police took Snyder’s cannabis plants, her growing equipment, and the money in her purse—which came to $72. They also took her car. Law enforcement had not even filed criminal charges against her before a judge cleared her property to be sold at auction.
The police used a process known as civil asset forfeiture to seize Snyder’s possessions. Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that allows law enforcement officers to seize an individual’s property if that property is believed to have been involved in a crime. Since it is a civil procedure, police do not have to file criminal charges against the property owner in most states.
At the time Snyder’s property was seized, police only required “a preponderance of the evidence” to be able to seize property. Critics of civil asset forfeiture argue that while it is often relatively easy for police to seize property, it can be difficult for innocent owners to get it back. Not only must citizens navigate the complicated court system, but they must also pay for their own lawyer. Unlike in a criminal case, property owners have no right to counsel.
In addition, Snyder faced a $500 bond—10 percent of the value of the seized items—in order to be able to challenge the forfeiture. As she lives on disability checks, this was not something she could afford. Snyder’s property was auctioned off.
“It took me close to seven months to save up the money to buy another vehicle of my own,” said Snyder. “Part of that was because during that time I had to pay other people to come pick me up take me to the grocery store to run my errands. So, yeah, it set me back.”
Snyder’s friends paid for a lawyer to fight the criminal case against her. All charges were dropped, but it was too late to get her property returned.
Several reforms to civil asset forfeiture in Michigan have been enacted since 2013. The standard of proof for seizing property is higher, although it still remains short of the standard of proof required in a criminal case, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Property owners no longer have to pay a bond worth 10 percent of the seized property, and law enforcement now has to document seizures.
State Senator Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township) has long been a critic of civil asset forfeiture. Last month, he introduced legislation which would require a criminal conviction before property could be permanently taken as long as the property was worth less than $50,000.
“I’m really happy that our legislature now is looking at changing that [civil asset forfeiture law],” said Snyder, “because it does really need to be changed.”
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.