State Rep. Jim Runestad’s plan to bring more oversight and transparency to Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture process was approved today by the House Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support.
Civil asset forfeiture is the procedure by which law enforcement officers can seize property they believe was gained from or used during the commission of a crime. Under current law, property – such as cash, narcotics, vehicles and other assets – can be seized from an individual even if they are never charged with a crime.
Runestad, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said his plan will offer more oversight to help protect the due process rights of innocent citizens.
“While we must ensure that criminals are not allowed to profit from their crimes, we must also provide checks and balances to ensure the civil asset forfeiture process isn’t being abused,” Runestad said. “Giving local prosecutors a means of oversight will foster the trust of the community and hold any potential bad actors in check.”
Runestad’s legislation, House Bill 5702, requires the county prosecuting attorney to review and obtain a court order for all forfeitures. If the forfeiture is not approved or a court order is not obtained, the seizing agency is required to return the property, unless it is harmful to the public.
A second piece of the plan, House Bill 5703 sponsored by Rep. Gary Glenn, would require Michigan law enforcement officers to complete training designed to assist in lawful property seizure that may be subject to forfeiture.
“This plan is a great step in the right direction,” Runestad said. “Having a transparent and reliable process will protect against abuse and ensure any property seized by law enforcement is done so lawfully.”
The plan now moves to the full House for consideration.