– Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, Chair of the House Committee on Judiciary
Nationwide cases have demonstrated the negative consequences in what we call “civil asset forfeiture,” a highly valuable tool by which public safety agencies repurpose money and property associated with criminal activity to bring much-needed funding to their departments. Civil asset forfeiture is as much about saving taxpayer dollars as it is punishing criminals by taking away their ill-gotten gains.
Unfortunately, gray areas exist as to what can be seized and under which conditions, and the incentive for profit can lead to some departments choosing to apply this tool more liberally. As a result, a controversy has brewed over where the line is drawn between the rights of the individual and the goals of public safety. Law enforcement should be able to go after criminals, but innocent citizens must be protected above all.
As Americans and Michigan residents, we hold sacred our private property rights, and also value and respect law enforcement in our community. To remedy the situation, we in the Michigan House of Representatives has drafted, discussed, and approved on June 4 a comprehensive package of bills that focuses on a balanced solution to eliminate the potential for abuse while ensuring that law enforcement still has the tools necessary to keep our neighborhoods safe. Notable changes include raising the minimum standard by which property can be seized from a “preponderance of the evidence” connecting the property to a crime to “clear and convincing evidence.”
We are happy to report to you that the legislation has received a great deal of positive feedback from civil rights organizations and law enforcement agencies alike. They now await hearings in the Senate, where we are optimistic they will be supported or improved upon. We believe this solution will clear up any gray areas in state law, while underscoring the bond of trust we feel toward our public safety personnel.