Police seized $24M in property through asset forfeiture

Posted at 7:00 PM, Oct 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-11 19:00:27-04

MICHIGAN — Last year police agencies across the state seized roughly $23.9 million in property through Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture law, according to the latest report released by Michigan State Police.

The numbers, released through the 2015 Michigan State Police Asset Forfeiture Report, which detail seizures in 2014, are nearly identical to the ones released a year prior in which MSP reported $24.3 million in assets were seized in 2013.

>> Read the full report here.

Since 2000, more than $250 million in forfeiture revenue has been collected.

Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture laws allow police agencies to seize cash and property of suspected drug traffickers if investigators have reason to believe it was obtained through illegal activity.

Police can seize property from an individual even if they have not been criminally charged.

“Asset forfeiture funds were used to enhance law enforcement by providing resources for personnel, equipment, canine expenses, prevention programs and matching funds to obtain federal grants,” Col. Kristie Etue, director of MSP, wrote in the report.

“Through this program, Michigan law enforcement community maintains its ability to systematically dismantle criminal enterprises and protect our citizens.”

686 law enforcement agencies across the state were sent a forfeiture report form to fill out, 92 percent of the agencies responded. According to the report, 56 agencies did not respond, but do not face penalty for not doing so.

Lawmakers, both locally and nationally, have been pushing to reform the forfeiture laws, alleging the need to protect citizens from having property seized without due process.

Reforms aimed at increasing police reporting and the burden of proof in civil court for individuals who have property seized by police were unanimously passed by state lawmakers in early October.

The reforms will raise the evidentiary standards to “clear and convincing” rather than the current “preponderance of evidence.” The reform bills passed will also change disclosure rules, requiring local law enforcement to file detailed annual reports to the state when property is forfeited.

Michigan State Police has long defended the practice, calling it a ‘critical’ tool in the process to stop drug trafficking.

A 2010 study from the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based non-profit law firm, ranked Michigan among the worst states in the country when it comes to forfeiture laws.

Nationally, civil asset net forfeitures rose to $4.2 billion in 2012, which was up from $1.7 billion in the preceding year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Michigan, introduced reform legislation of his own in Congress earlier this year dubbed the FAIR Act, that would restore the Fifth Amendment’s role in civil forfeiture proceedings.

“It’s guilty until proven innocent in the (current) case, and that’s not the way we should work it,” Walberg told FOX 17 in May.

“To use a tool of asset forfeiture to try to get at drug running and money laundering but ultimately it ends up becoming a fundraising tool for law enforcement agencies, that’s a problem.”