Lawmaker says balance needed to protect citizens
Michigan residents will be better protected from the improper seizure of their property by police agencies under a bipartisan legislative package introduced today that reforms state civil asset forfeiture laws, state Rep. Klint Kesto announced.
Rep. Kesto, R-Commerce Township, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said civil asset forfeiture reform is one of the most important issues facing the Legislature this session. Under current law, police are able to seize cash, cars, homes and other property during raids. Sometimes charges are never filed against the alleged perpetrators, yet law enforcement officials not only keep the property they obtain during the process, they often auction it off and use the profits to supplement their budgets with little accountability.
“We must bring culpability and transparency to the system and rein in the ability of police to indiscriminately seize the property of innocent citizens,” Rep. Kesto said. “I plan to hold open hearings on this issue by bringing in experts from all sides to testify. We must protect the public’s right to reclaim their property, when applicable, but also we have to enable law enforcement to do its job and legitimately claim property proven to have been used in criminal activities.”
Bills in the package include:
- Impose reporting requirements on law enforcement agencies for all forfeitures to increase transparency;
- Raise the evidentiary standard for drug forfeiture and public nuisances from the current “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing”;and
- Narrow the scope of drug forfeiture laws to exclude low-level, personal-use and medical marijuana crimes from forfeiture. Many agencies use forfeiture for purchasing a $5 bag of marijuana or by improperly storing medical marijuana in a vehicle as reason for seizing money and property.
“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,” Rep. Kesto said. “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.”
Bills in the legislative package are:
- HB 4504, the uniform forfeiture reporting act, introduced by Rep. Kesto;
- HB 4506, a bill subjecting drug forfeitures to the new reporting act, authored by state Rep. Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance;
- HB 4503, which subjects omnibus forfeitures to the new reporting act, sponsored by state Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona;
- HB 4507, which subjects public nuisance forfeitures to the new reporting act, introduced by state Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo;
- HB 4505, introduced by state Rep. Peter J. Lucido, R-Shelby Township, which heightens the evidentiary standard for drug forfeitures;
- HB 4500, which subjects identity theft-related forfeitures to the new reporting act, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake;
- HB 4499, authored by state Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, heightens the evidentiary standard for public nuisance; and
- HB 4508, providing a drug forfeiture exception for purchasers of personal marijuana, sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor.
The legislation was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.