Mackinac Bridge, Michigan

The people of Royal Oak, Michigan, are working to reform civil asset forfeiture laws—something that is desperately needed across the country to protect innocent people and their property. On Thursday, the Royal Oak Public Library will host a town hall meeting, at which a panel of legislators and experts will discuss potential reforms to the current civil asset forfeiture regime, which could include bills recently introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives intended to restrict the scope of civil asset forfeiture in Michigan.

One bill would prohibit the government from forfeiting property that has been claimed by a person if the person has not been convicted of an offense. This bill also explicitly prohibits law enforcement from using forfeiture as a negotiating tool.

As we have written previously, law enforcement officers sometimes pressure individuals into handing over property “voluntarily,” using the threat of criminal charges unless they do so. Under this proposal, an officer engaging in this conduct would be guilty of misfeasance in office. This provision would free innocent Michigan residents from having to choose between agreeing to forfeit their property and facing potential criminal liability.

Another bill on the table would require law enforcement officials to document, among other things, what property was forfeited, why it was forfeited, and what the proceeds of the forfeiture were used for. This requirement would increase accountability among law enforcement agencies and decrease the likelihood of abuse.

These initiatives are the start of a much-needed push for reform in Michigan. As we highlighted here and here, many Michigan residents are harmed by abusive application of civil asset forfeiture laws. And since few forfeitures actually come before a court, many stories of civil forfeiture remain untold.

Word is spreading that civil asset forfeiture laws are in desperate need of reform. Hopefully, Michiganders will seize the moment and push their legislators to enact comprehensive reforms that protect the rights of innocent property owners.