Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed an seven-bill package yesterday to curb civil forfeiture, an abusive police practice where people do not have to be convicted, much less charged with a crime, to permanently lose their property.
Unlike criminal convictions, which require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, to win civil forfeiture cases in Michigan, the government need only show by a “preponderance of the evidence” (i.e. more likely than not) that there is a connection between a property and alleged wrongdoing.
Two of the newly signed bills, HB 4499 and 4505, increase the standard of proof to “clear and convincing evidence” in forfeiture cases that involve either controlled substances or “nuisances,” like prostitution or gambling. These reforms force prosecutors to provide more evidence in civil court when seeking forfeiture. Raising the burden of proof better protects due process for Michiganders who are otherwise threatened with forfeiture of their cash, vehicles or real estate. Only a handful of states require clear and convincing evidence or proof beyond a reasonable doubt in civil forfeiture proceedings.
The other bills, HB 4500, 4503, 4504, 4506 and 4507, strengthen reporting requirements, shedding a light on forfeiture in the state. Starting on February 1, 2016, law enforcement agencies will have to annually report “all seizure and forfeiture activities,” as well as disclose whether property owners facing forfeiture were criminally charged or convicted.