May 27, 2015 Print

The rights of property owners across the United States are under assault by the rampant use of civil asset forfeiture laws, which grant law enforcement the authority to seize property if it is suspected of being involved in a crime — even if the owner is not charged with a crime, let alone convicted. Under these laws, the property is held guilty until proven innocent, which is antithetical to the founding principles of the American criminal justice system.

Abuse of these laws is particularly egregious in Michigan. The Institute for Justice, an Atlas Network partner devoted to litigating for civil liberties, recently gave the state a “D-” grade for its abuse of civil asset forfeiture. Police departments are allowed to keep what they catch, and usually without much of a legal fight because the burden is on the property owner to demonstrate that the suspected property was not involved in a crime. In 2013, police seized more than $24 million in assets from Michiganders.

“To describe forfeiture is to condemn it,” said Lee McGrath, Institute for Justice legislative counsel, in his opening statement at a recent panel discussion hosted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an Atlas Network partner in Michigan and finalist for the 2013 Templeton Freedom Award. Participants on the panel spanned the political spectrum, and included Jeff Irwin, a Democratic state representative from Ann Arbor; and Dan Korobkin from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

View the Mackinac Center panel discussion.

Read the Institute for Justice report “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture.”