When our Founding Fathers considered government’s role as it pertains to personal property, they took great pains to ensure that property would be protected from unwarranted seizure by the government.
The Fifth Amendment, contained in the Bill of Rights, states: “Nor shall (anyone) be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
Until the state Legislature recently passed a package of bills designed to protect property from arbitrary seizure by government entities, law enforcement agencies were regularly seizing civil assets that were suspected to have been connected to illegal activities. Even if no criminal charges were filed and no convictions were obtained, that property remained in government hands and often was sold to bolster a police department’s or county sheriff’s budget.
The legislative package that passed in the House and Senate and was signed into law by the governor – including a measure I introduced, House Bill 4500 — is a good first step in protecting the rights of citizens. However, I believe we need to go even further to ensure the property seizure process is not being abused.
I believe that property seized because it is suspected of being used in criminal activity should be placed in a sort of limbo – unable to be sold or converted to another use – until it is unequivocally determined that the item was used in the commission of a crime and a conviction has been secured. That is the due process our Founding Fathers considered so important when they made the first amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
How can, for example, a house be seized, cleaned out and sold by a local government on the mere suspicion of guilt? What form of redress does a citizen have once the seized property is no longer in the hands of a local government? What “just compensation” can be offered to a family that lost its home or car or any other personal property under questionable circumstances?
Those are questions I believe must be addressed in additional legislation to safeguard personal property from undue seizure. As a member of the House Committee on Judiciary, one of my priorities is to see that we explore and eventually introduce legislation so the basic property rights of Michigan residents are protected from seizure without due process.