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Michigan Gov. Whitmer Vetoes Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill Permitting Airport Authorities to Seize Property Without Arrest


Detroit, MI

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed 13 bills on December 30, including legislation that would have allowed airport authorities to use civil asset forfeiture to seize property from travelers without charging them with a crime.

Civil asset forfeiture is a process used by state and federal law enforcement agencies to seize property they believe is linked to criminal activity, even if the owner isn’t charged. The practice has been a key tool in the War on Drugs and is often touted as a critical means of financially hamstringing major drug traffickers.

Last Wednesday, Whitmer vetoed Senate Bill 761, which was introduced by Senator Curt VanderWall (R), to “exclude property seizures at airports” from provisions passed in 2019 that limit property forfeiture actions unless the property owner has been convicted of a crime or accepts a plea.

“Today I am returning Enrolled Senate Bill 761 to you without my approval. This bill would allow airport authorities to seize and forfeit money even when they are unable to tie that money to criminal activity,” Whitmer wrote in her veto letter.

Whitmer cited Senate Bill 2 and House Bills 4001 and 4002, which she signed into law in 2019, as the reason for her veto.

“Earlier this session, I signed Senate Bill 2 and House Bills 4001 and 4002, which passed with nearly unanimous support, to limit civil asset forfeiture for individuals who have not been convicted of a crime in order to increase property protections for citizens,” said Whitmer. “This bill would begin to unwind that important progress. Law enforcement continues to have the power to seize money suspected of ties to criminal activity and to initiate forfeiture of that money when a criminal connection can be demonstrated.”

Senate Bill 2 and House Bills 4001 and 4002 increased protections against civil asset forfeiture for Michiganders by requiring a criminal conviction or plea before any assets worth less than $50,000 can be seized by law enforcement. The state must also notify the property owner and allow them to file an objection. A forfeiture proceeding is still allowed if no one claims the property or the defendant cannot be located and arrested.

Senate Bill 761 sought to allow airport law enforcement agencies like Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to use civil asset forfeiture to seize money or other personal property from travelers, even if the property owner is not convicted of a crime.

Airport seizures of this kind are incredibly common at U.S. airports. A recent analysis of a government database of every seizure revealed more than $2 billion was taken from travelers at the nation’s airports by CBP and other agencies between 2000 and 2016. It found nearly 70 percent of such seizures occurred without an arrest.

It is not illegal to fly with cash in the U.S., but money that is believed to be from an unlawful source or an illegal purpose can be subject to forfeiture. If this has happened to you, then you should immediately consult a civil asset forfeiture attorney. Depending on the facts of your CBP airport cash seizure, a civil forfeiture defense attorney can choose the best defense to help you get your cash back.

South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney

Are you the victim of an airport cash seizure? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorneys.

Source: 12.30.20 SB 761 Veto Letter.pdf

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