Michigan Tries To Stop Police From Stealing Your Stuff

A bipartisan series of bills was introduced in the Michigan legislature Wednesday which aims to stop police from stealing people’s stuff.

The bills would reform civil asset forfeiture, a practice where police can take your property and keep it, even if you are not convicted or even charged with a crime. Then, you have to endure the difficult, and often unsuccessful process to get your property–whether it’s a vehicle, cash, or your home–back from the police.

Michigan is the latest state to take on the issue. Wyoming passed a reform bill earlier this year that was vetoed by the governor. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez signed a sweeping reform bill into law earlier this month that was lauded by advocates of forfeiture reform.

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The legislative package includes 8 bills that aim to address different areas of abuse. Two of the biggest reforms in the package come in HB 4508 and HB 4505.

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HB 4508 would prevent police from forfeiting large amounts of property simply because of low level marijuana use.

HB 4505 would raise the evidence standard from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing.” This makes it more difficult for police to prove your property was criminally involved and as a result more difficult to keep the property they took from you.

Notably, the package does not address what critics have called “policing for profit.” Currently, police departments are allowed to keep a portion of the money they seize from citizens. New Mexico’s reforms require that the money now go to the state instead of police budgets so as to remove the incentives for police to take property to pay their bills.

The package would require reporting of asset forfeitures to increase transparency.

“Our local police do a great job, but the law directs them to treat innocent people like criminals,” Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We need to reform this broken policy and protect the rights of every Michigan resident.”

Detroit Free Press investigation revealed widespread abuse of asset forfeiture laws in the state and featured the story of a cancer patient who police reportedly targeted based on a technicality. The report found that police seized more than $24 million in 2013.

“As a former assistant prosecutor, I put a high priority on public safety, and the police must be able to protect our communities from criminal activity,” state Rep. Klint Kesto, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “At the same time, citizens deserve the right to reclaim their property if it has been wrongly taken from them. We need to achieve a balance to satisfy both goals.”


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