The Michigan Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would make major changes to civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture is when police are allowed to take property from people suspected of a crime without charging them.
State Senator Peter Lucido sponsored the bill. He said he thinks this bill will have the biggest impact on low-income people who forfeit property in exchange for better plea deals.
“Mostly the poor I think," said Sen. Lucido. "It’s also going to affect those who have been wronged by the taking of property now. This will strengthen their avenue to fight for justice. And more importantly, it will give a better optic for all police because we shouldn’t be policing for profit."
He said the biggest change from existing law would be that police are not allowed to take property from someone without charging them with a crime.
“So this now says if a person goes, makes claim to a property," said Sen. Lucido. "They, first of all, have to be charged, they have to be found guilty and until that happens we’re still presumed innocent in this. So, no I don’t think it’s going to have any impact on policing.”
Sen. Lucido introduced a similar civil asset forfeiture reform bill in the 2017 session, which passed in the House of Representatives, but ultimately stalled in the Senate.
At the beginning of the 2019 legislative session, civil asset forfeiture reform was also endorsed by Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield and Attorney General Dana Nessel in a gesture of bipartisanship.
Wednesday’s vote was bipartisan, with 36 senators voting in favor of proposed legislation.
Senator Paul Wojno was one of two Senators who voted against the bill after receiving a letter from the Michigan Association of Police Organizations, who opposed the bill. MAPO argues that passing the bill would have “a certain negative impact on law enforcement operations throughout the State of Michigan.”
The letter argues while changes to the civil forfeiture process must be made, “the end result of these suggested changes will be fewer police officers stopping fewer criminals.”
State Senator Curtis Hertel said some police organizations had issues with the bill, but, “My thing is, at the end of the day, our job is to protect the citizens of the state and they have a right to not have their property taken unless there’s due process and in this case there isn’t.”
In the 2017 Asset Forfeiture Report, the Michigan State Police said the forfeiture funds were used to provide resources for things including equipment, personnel, and training.
The report cited more than 6500 forfeitures, that netted more than $13 million.
Under the proposed legislation police would not have been allowed to make over half of those seizures. And, they wouldn’t have been able to take assets without a conviction.
The MSP has not yet responded to a request for comment. The bill will now go to the House.
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