Bringing transparency is needed.
Last month, as the Michigan Senate debated a host of reforms to the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws, the Michigan State Police released its Asset Forfeiture Report, the annual publication required by state law that details Michigan’s drug-related forfeiture activities.
The report aggregates data from 629 local police departments, sheriff’s departments, and multijurisdictional task forces, plus the Michigan State Police. Civil forfeiture is a policy that enables law enforcement authorities to seize property or currency if they suspect it is involved in, or is the result of, a crime.
Americans Have Few Protections in Civil Proceedings
Since forfeiture proceedings are civil, not criminal, property owners are afforded few due process protections. With no presumption of innocence or right to an attorney, innocent property owners fighting the seizure of their homes and life savings face a legal landscape skewed against them in nearly every way possible.
According to Michigan’s forfeiture report, in 2014, state law enforcement agencies seized and forfeited $23.9 million’s worth of cash and property. That sum includes more than $14 million’s worth of assets forfeited under state law, and an additional $8 million provided to Michigan law enforcement agencies via the federal equitable sharing program.
The real total value of forfeited property is likely higher, since only drug-related forfeitures have to be reported.
Taking into account the cost of running forfeiture operations, Michigan law enforcement netted a cool $20.4 million in revenue, every penny of which they can spend without political oversight and with little accountability—conditions that are ripe for abuse.
Believe it or not, the 12 pages that constitute this year’s forfeiture report are the most detailed look Michiganders and their elected lawmakers get into the world of civil forfeiture.
Here are some of the highlights:
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