Criminal Justice

Michigan Legislator Seeks to Replace Civil Asset Forfeiture with Criminal Forfeiture

Michigan is poised to become the next state to address civil asset forfeiture reform thanks to Representative Peter Lucido. Civil asset forfeiture reform has become a very important issue for criminal justice reform and is now gaining momentum in the Wolverine State. “While I completely agree with the notion a criminal should not profit from a crime, we need to protect the property of those accused until they are actually found guilty…Collecting evidence isn’t open season for collecting property it is part of an investigation. If the investigation doesn’t lead to a conviction…the property is not a consolation prize. It belongs with the rightful owner,” Lucido said.

Civil asset forfeiture is a mechanism that law enforcement agencies use to disrupt criminal activity. However, under current Michigan law, a law enforcement officer must only have probable cause that criminal activity is taking place for a seizure to follow. As a result, individuals who are never charged with a crime lose property. According to Right On Crime, state and local law enforcement reported they had seized over $800 million worth of assets in 2007. Also, 2012 saw almost a half a billion dollars paid to state and local agencies under the guise of equitable sharing. The process of equitable sharing allows the property that is seized locally to be forfeited to federal agencies, and up to 80 percent of the proceeds can be “shared” with state and local agencies while the federal government retains the remaining proceeds. It is important to make sure that law enforcement agencies still have the tools to go after dangerous criminals, but it’s also important that the rights of individual citizens are not infringed upon in the process.

Lucido has recently introduced HB 4158 which would abolish civil forfeiture and replace it with criminal forfeiture. Within this bill, the state of Michigan would not be legally able to obtain a judgment of forfeiture of an individual’s assets unless the property owner is charged and convicted of a crime. The new legislation would also hold government agencies accountable. Any public officer of the state or of a local unit of government who violates or authorizes the violation of the new law could be found guilty of misfeasance in office.

The leadership of Lucido in his efforts to reform civil asset forfeiture laws is crucial to ensuring Michigan citizens’ private property rights are protected from government intrusion. The ALEC model Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Protection Act provides for such protections as well. Lucido is tackling the important issue of civil asset forfeiture reform, which has passed in numerous states over the last two years and is gaining momentum in Michigan.

In Depth: Criminal Justice

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