Michigan used to have some of the worst laws when it came to asset forfeiture. But Governor Whitmer changed that when she signed a bipartisan bill into law in 2019 that reformed the state’s laws. Now there must be a conviction before police can permanently confiscate property.
In the years leading up to this change, half of all cash seizures were worth less than $423 but totaled around $13 million annually. Rather than taking money from drug dealers, the so-called police-for-profit forfeitures targeted ordinary people stopped for minor infractions. There were also examples of seizing cars because the police found a small amount of marijuana, or drug-sniffing dogs indicated that there once had been drugs in the vehicle. Law enforcement also went after houses, often owned by lower-income families. These home seizures were often justified with allegations of low-level drug dealing. Overall, law enforcement would target those less likely to reclaim their possessions, which often translated into individuals with less money.
The Michigan law
Taking effect in 2020, the new law does not apply to drug distribution cases where the forfeited assets are worth more than $50,000. In most cases, however, the permanent forfeiture would not occur until the defendant pleads guilty or is convicted of a crime. Other related bills stipulated that owners were notified of the forfeited property and that the property would be returned in 14 days if it was not justified.
Policing for profit is unjust
There has been a national trend toward reforming the police-for-profit concept. Law enforcement and some officials argued that the reforms made it easier for drug dealers and other criminals to protect themselves and their assets. Forfeiture without a conviction is unjust by most measures of the law here in the U.S., and this is made that much worse because police often went after those in lower economic brackets.
Legal guidance more important than ever
This law change makes it that much more important to work with an attorney who will fight for their client’s innocence and protect what is rightfully theirs.