Monday, January 20, 2014

Bills would curb police right to seize your assets

Did you know that under Michigan’s civil forfeiture laws, someone does not have to be convicted of or even charged with a crime to permanently lose his or her cash, car or home to law enforcement?

Two Michigan lawmakers want to do something about it and have scheduled a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23 to inform the public about the issue.

State Reps. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, and Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, are both sponsoring legislation to curb the practice.

Thurday’s meeting on "Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws and Reforms" will be held at the Royal Oak Public Library. 

Speakers will include McMillin, Rep. Rose Mary Robinson, D-Detroit,
Shelli Weisberg, legislative director of the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Dennis Marburger, the Oakland County coordinator of the Michigan Campaign  for Liberty.

McMillin called civil asset forfeiture reform an issue that crosses the political spectrum of left and right.

“Taking a citizen’s assets without a conviction certainly seems unfair,” McMillin said in a press release.

Irwin’s HB 5212 would require a conviction before citizens' assets could be kept. McMillin’s HB 5081  would bring transparency to the process. If passed, for the first time Michigan citizens could see how often people's assets are taken without a conviction and how the funds are used, among other disclosures, McMillin said.

According to a 2010 Institute for Justice study, Michigan has one of the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the nation.

Michigan  earned a D- from the institute in its report “Policing for Profit.” Currently, the government has to establish by a “preponderance of the evidence” that a property was involved in criminal activity to forfeit property, according to the institute. That is a much lower evidentiary standard than what’s required for a criminal conviction, which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

So if HB 5213 is enacted, it would raise the bar, meaning prosecutors would need far more evidence to engage in forfeiture, according to the institute.

Michigan has recently witnessed several high-profile civil forfeiture cases. Two Detroit-area small business owners, Terry Dehko and Mark Zaniewski, had their entire bank accounts seized by the IRS, even though neither was charged with any crime, according to the institute. Over $100,000 in total was taken from the two men.

An even more controversial incident occurred when Detroit police raided and seized cars at an art gala.  

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