End Policing for Profit; the case against civil asset forfeiture

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that the Constitution's ban on excessive fines applies to state and local governments, thus limiting their ability to use fines to raise revenue.

The court's opinion came in the case of Tyson Timbs, whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized by the state of Indiana after he was arrested for selling a small amount of heroin to undercover cops for $400.

Closer to home, you might be familiar with the class action lawsuit against Wayne county over the seizure of 2015 KIA Soul from a man who had $10 dollars worth of marijuana.

To be clear, civil asset forfeiture is a racket, it is fraud, it is immoral and it is a direct result of the failed drug war. The ruling is just the beginning, but it raises the issue of true civil asset reform, meaning to end it completely.

In the Michigan state senate, SB-2 was introduced as a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, but it too is incomplete in that it caps the amount to $50k (though legislators will point out that 80% of these cases falls under $50k), and it does not allow for equitable sharing by federal law enforcement. There are additional bill proposals which fall even shorter than SB-2.

Here are some reforms which must be a part of any credible Civil asset forfeiture reform legislation;


·         Justification for seizing property/money should be based on “Clear and Convincing Evidence.”

·         A conviction or guilty plea should be required to keep seized property.


End Equitable Sharing

·         The Equitable Sharing Program allows for proceeds to be shared when a federal seizure is conducted and provides a loophole for local and state law enforcement to circumvent state law and requirements.  NOTE:  Some reform legislation contains a provision that the local or state law enforcement agency may not transfer seized property to a federal law enforcement authority unless the value of the property exceeds $50,000.  Although this doesn’t eliminate the Equitable Sharing Program completely, only approximately 1% of forfeitures exceed $50,000, meaning 99% of forfeitures would be subject to requirements under state law.  

·         Money and proceeds from Civil Asset Forfeiture should be placed in the state’s General Fund, rather than law department budgets.  This adds another layer of oversight between law enforcement and the funds they seize.

·         Review of settlements should be made by a third party, and audits should be conducted on a scheduled basis.

·         Reporting of Civil Asset Forfeiture funds, types, and where they were conducted should be made publicly available.


Appeals Process

·         Citizens should be provided time to contest the seizure / forfeiture, and should be provided indigent defense, when necessary.

Law enforcement almost uniformly stands in opposition to any of these measures claiming the confusion in the proposed law between what is civil and criminal cases makes it more difficult for them to get a conviction. For those of us who advocate for lawful and limited government, civil asset theft serves to give an additional revenue stream for cash strapped local municipalities. In short, civil asset theft is nothing short of “policing for profit”.

Civil libertarians will point out that the property did not commit the crime, so why should it play a factor. The example being the parents who allow their child to borrow the family car, the child picks up a friend who has a drug in his possession -- they get pulled over, upon a search, the drug is discovered and in addition to the being arrested, the car is seized. From this point, the family has a difficult time getting their property returned.

Think of the home owner who rents out their property and their tenant possesses drugs--they have a home encounter with police and upon arrest the home is seized, now the home owner has to fight to their property returned.

In Michigan in 2016, their was over $15 million in property seized with police not filing charges in approximately 10% of those cases.

In other nations drugs are treated as a medical condition, and turnarounds are statistically better in those nations comparatively to ours. Worse, the drug war adversely affects the inner cities and minorities the hardest who get hit with harder fines and convictions opening the door to dark path of worse crimes.

It is time to put a stop to this unconstitutional and immoral behavior from those sworn to protect property. Call your local legislators in Lansing in both the senate and state house to demand and end to civil asset theft, work to end to the drug war.

-Chairman Dude