According to a record sourced from the Michigan State Police, police seized almost $15 million in property and cash from more than 6,000 individuals in 2018. About $13.4 million of the seized cash went to police budgets, sources allege.
Since 1978, Michigan Police has been using a legal instrument called civil asset forfeiture law that allows them to seize property which has been linked to certain criminal activity. The owner of the seized property does not even need to be guilty or convicted for the law enforcement to take over their valuables.
When funds from civil asset forfeiture go towards the department that conducted the forfeiture, it gives police the incentive to seize property, critics say. This results in more seizures of valuables from people who are never convicted of wrongdoing.
The Michigan Police report further stated that only 2,810 of the 6,000 people had been convicted for the offense that resulted in their property being seized. Of these, 25 people were were not even told why police collected their property, the report alleged. Moreover, the agency sold almost $3 million worth of items out of the $7.6 million that they acquired, making it impossible for the owners of the property to reclaim their items.
The main concern about this law, as stated by Jarret Skorup, the marketing and communication director of the Mackinac Center Public Policy, is that 514 out of the 6,000 individuals whose assets were seized were not convicted of any crime.
Concerned by these statistics, the Institute for Justice, a law firm working for the public interest, researched forfeiture. They found that this law targeted mostly drugs users with low income instead of traffickers.
Skorup informed The Center Square how these laws, meant to target wealthy career criminals, end up affecting primarily low-level users who are unable to pay for legal representation. Most of these smaller seizures are of cars and cash.
In total, Michigan Police seized not only just cash, guns, and drugs, but 13 houses, 3,545 transport vehicles, and more than 3,900 other unspecified valuables. According to Skorup and Sheriff Koops, a 45-year-old veteran, the houses mostly belonged to wealthy drug traffickers.
On changing the requirements for civil forfeiture, Koops expressed that requiring a conviction in seizure cases would negatively impact their investigations. These include the disappearance of the asset in the time required to procure a conviction as well as the reduction in police funds. For the latter, in the case of any change in law, Koops insisted that the funds must be replaced through other methods in order to keep the police force operational.
Despite this, in April, The Michigan Legislature reformed the civil asset forfeiture to include the requirement of a conviction before the seizure of any asset. This new law, taking in effect starting from August 1, will not apply to assets valuing more than $50,000; police can still seize such property without convicting the owner.
As told by Skorup, many of these individuals surrender their low-valued assets or a couple of hundred dollars rather than paying the often substantial costs involved in contesting a seizure.
Source: 7.26.19 Michigan Police Seizures