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Michigan Legislature Limits Asset Forfeiture In Drug Cases

Michigan Capitol
Cheyna Roth

Law enforcement could not permanently take ownership of cash and other property seized in drug cases unless certain conditions are met under measures that won final legislative passage Thursday.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign the bipartisan bills that target civil asset forfeiture, a practice that critics say has been abused to fund police activities.

The legislation would prohibit assets taken in suspected drug crimes from being forfeited unless the defendant is convicted or the value of the money and property is more than $50,000, excluding the value of contraband. A conviction or guilty plea would not be required in instances where no one claims an interest in the property, the owner allows the forfeiture, or a defendant has been charged but cannot be located or extradited back to Michigan.

In 2017, 736 people had property forfeited to Michigan law enforcement agencies without being charged with a crime — roughly 11% of all civil forfeitures. More than 200 defendants were charged and found innocent, but governments still kept their assets. In many cases, no one claimed an interest in the property.

Law enforcement agencies reported netting $13.1 million in proceeds from forfeitures in 2017.

At least 11 states require a criminal conviction to engage in some or all forfeiture proceedings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Three states fully prohibit civil forfeiture.

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