Civil asset forfeiture, as readers may know, is one of the tools law enforcement has as its disposal in the investigation of criminal activity. Essentially, the legal process allows officers to seize property they believe was involved in a crime, even if the property owner is never charged with a crime.
The problems with civil asset forfeiture are well known, and Michigan lawmakers are currently considering a series of bills aimed at making the process a bit more equitable. Among other things, the set of bills would increase reporting requirements for officers involved in civil assets forfeiture and prevent officers from seizing vehicles used in the purchase of small amounts of marijuana.
Another measure would increase the evidentiary standards used in asset forfeiture proceedings. In particular, the measure would heighten the evidentiary standard in public nuisance and drug-related civil asset forfeiture proceedings. At present, the evidentiary standard in use is the preponderance standard, which requires officers to demonstrate that it is more likely than not that seized property was involved in a crime. This is known as the “preponderance” standard, and it is the usual civil standard.
The measure would change the evidentiary standard to require officers to prove, by “clear and convincing evidence” that seized property was involved in a crime. This would make it more difficult for officers to justify seizures, and would make it easier for property owners who have had their property improperly seized to recovery what is rightfully theirs.
It isn’t clear how far the set of bills will go, or what changes—if any—will be made along the way, but it is hoped that there is some change in the process. Those who have been subjected to asset forfeiture in the course of a criminal investigation, of course, can often benefit from working with an experienced attorney in forfeiture proceedings, particularly when there is a lot of property at stake.