Trump is Wrong on Civil Forfeiture

State should stop this end-run around the Constitution

In a meeting between the new president and law enforcement officials, a Texas sheriff complained about legislation that would require a person be convicted of a crime before the state took ownership of his or her property. President Donald Trump, wrongly, disparaged legislators who support this reform to the forfeiture system.

Politico notes the exchange:

“On asset forfeiture, we’ve got a state senator in Texas that was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we could receive that forfeiture money,” [Sheriff Harold] Eavenson said.

“Can you believe that?” Trump interjected.

“And I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed,” the Texas sheriff continued.

“Who is the state senator? Do you want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career,” Trump replied.

Forfeiture is the process by which the government transfers assets from people to the state. There are two types: criminal and civil. Criminal forfeiture is done after a conviction; civil can be done without a conviction and often without any charges being filed. Criminal forfeiture is a needed and necessary part of law enforcement. Civil forfeiture is an end-run around constitutional rights and should be abolished.

In Michigan, the fact that innocent people are losing their property to the state has been a big problem. But the move toward a solution has been bipartisan, with bills passed in 2015 and 2016 reforming state laws. The Legislature should take the final step and eliminate civil forfeiture altogether, replacing it with only criminal forfeiture.

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There have been 17 exonerations in Michigan involving misapplied forensic science. Several groups from different sides of the political spectrum are calling for improvements to forensic science and for better transparency and quality control in crime labs.

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