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Michigan civil forfeiture has been criticized

State law enforcement seized over $15 million in cash and property from individuals associated with suspected crimes last year. However, a recent report claims that charges, including drug charges, were not filed in almost 10 percent of these cases.

Law enforcement agencies recorded 5,290 civil forfeitures under a new law that took effect at the beginning of 2016. However, charges were not filed in 523 of those cases, even though the seizures were based on the commission of an alleged offense. Another 196 individuals were charged, but not convicted.

Over $12 million was forfeited from persons associated with drug offenses. Forfeitures in 897 cases involved possession of less than 25 grams of narcotics, such as cocaine and heroin. There were another 824 seizures for offenses, such as suspicion of delivery or manufacturing marijuana.

The Michigan Department of State Police claimed that many people accused of crimes cooperated with law enforcement and were not charged. But, this was not documented in its report.

Forfeiture assets may be used to pay for improved law enforcement equipment, vehicles and training. Some agencies contributed funds to nonprofit organizations that assist with solving crimes.

In addition to $15,288,514 in forfeited cash, law enforcement seized 2,037 vehicles, 806 weapons, 276 securities and 15,160 other valuable items. Law enforcement agencies said that police kept $6.6 million in cash or property. Items worth $1.3 million were sold. Agencies destroyed $26,150 in property and $12,475 worth of assets.

Most of the state forfeitures, 4,955, were handled through the public health law governing controlled substances. Another 139 cases were processed under public nuisance laws governing offenses, such as prostitution or gambling.

Both sides of the political spectrum have sought reforms to the state's civil forfeiture laws. Some seek a law requiring additional due process or a conviction before forfeiture. Other proposals would restrict how law enforcement could utilize seizures.

The U.S. Attorney General's recent proposal to expedite forfeiture is also receiving criticism. Opponents object based on a lower probable cause standard, instead of Michigan's clear and convincing standard.

An attorney can help assure that defendants are afforded due process in these cases. They can provide a defense against these seizures and arrest.

Source: The Detroit News, "$15M in Michigan police confiscations scrutinized," Jonathan Oosting, July 21, 2017

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