A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

News Story

No Charge, No Conviction — But 956 People Still Lose Stuff To Cops

Michigan releases 2017 civil asset forfeiture report

In Michigan last year, 956 people who were never charged with or convicted of a crime nevertheless lost property to law enforcement and other agencies, based on suspicions that the property may have been connected to an alleged crime.

Those 956 individuals represent roughly 14 percent of the 6,666 people in Michigan whose property was taken from them by the government under a process called civil asset forfeiture.

Of those 956 individuals, 736 were never charged with a violation for which asset forfeitures are authorized, and 220 were charged but not convicted. A further 228 individuals who cooperated with or assisted law enforcement to avoid criminal charges still had assets forfeited to the government.

The law enforcement agencies involved in forfeiture proceedings collected more than $13.1 million worth of property in 2017, of which $11.8 million was cash. In 2016, a total of $15.2 million in cash and property was forfeited to agencies.

These figures come from a report compiled by the Michigan State Police. Under a 2015 law, local agencies must send data on forfeiture to the department, which, in turn, must produce a report that it then publishes on the internet. Advocates of reforming the practice of civil asset forfeiture considered it a preliminary step.

Jarrett Skorup, a policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, co-authored a report with the ACLU on civil asset forfeiture in Michigan.

“Michigan has been making progress over the past few years to do a better job protecting innocent people from forfeiture, by raising the standard of evidence and increasing transparency. But as this report shows, there’s a lot of work to do. More than 3,500 people in Michigan had the government take ownership of their property in 2017 without being convicted of a crime, and nearly 1,000 of them weren’t charged with a crime or were charged and found innocent. This should not happen.”

Skorup's reference to 3,500 people who had their assets forfeited without being convicted of a crime in 2017 includes 2,368 people who were charged with a violation with charges still pending.

In 2016, the Legislature repealed a requirement that owners of seized property provide a cash bond before they could contest a forfeiture. In May of this year, the Michigan House passed House Bill 4158, in a bipartisan 83 to 26 vote, to prohibit property forfeiture in most drug cases unless the owner is actually convicted of a crime. The bill is currently pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.