In Michigan, as in many other states, if police think you are involved in a drug crime, they can take your money and your property. They do not have to prove that you are dealing or even using drugs; the mere suspicion of involvement is all that it is required to seize your assets. Legislators are on the verge of ending law enforcement’s power to do this.
Under civil asset forfeiture, police agencies have broad power to seize and keep property from suspected criminals. Even if there is no conviction for a crime, this property can still be legally kept by the state. Individuals who owned that property can fight to get it back, but the legal barriers are high and such a fight is costly and time-consuming.
The Michigan House of Representatives voted to reform this practice in mid-May. Under legislation that passed that chamber, any property valued at $50,000 or less could only be forfeited to the state if there is a criminal conviction, a plea agreement, or if the owner relinquishes the property to the state.
Law enforcement groups testified against this legislation during its consideration. They said that civil asset forfeiture is necessary to combat drug trafficking, depriving dealers of the proceeds of their crime. They also said that the money from forfeiture helps fund law enforcement, so limiting the practice will deprive them of money that they need.
Opponents of civil asset forfeiture point out that if drug dealers are convicted of crimes, then their property can still be seized. They say that there are many instances where law enforcement takes someone’s property, but never charges or convicts that person of a crime. Those who pushed for reform say that the government should not be able to confiscate someone’s property without convicting that person of a crime, and then force the person to go through a lengthy and costly process to get the property back.
This bill will now be considered by the state Senate.
Do you think that the government should be able to take someone’s property if they are only suspected of a crime but never convicted or even charged with one?