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Bill Would Prohibit Asset Forfeiture In Michigan Without Criminal Conviction


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Jacque Sutton didn’t commit any crime but police impounded his 1989 Mustang GT and charged him $900 to get it back.

His offense was attending a party in 2009 at an art gallery in Detroit which didn't have a permit to hold an event with dancing and DJs. Police raided the place and gave everyone tickets for illegal occupation, which were later waived. But Sutton's car was seized and he couldn't get his property back until he paid the money as a result of Michigan's asset forfeiture law. 


Rep. Irwin

He's not alone. Since 2001, Michigan agencies have seized at least $250 million worth of property and money from citizens. While much of what's seized comes from criminals, a significant amount of assets and a number of cases involve people like Sutton.


A newly introduced bill would prevent many of those situations. House Bill 5213, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, would prohibit civil asset forfeiture in Michigan unless a person is convicted of a crime.

"I do agree with [the bill]," Sutton said. "This was basically a money grab for the city."

Rep. Irwin said forfeiture, which is a way for the government to seize or confiscate assets, has "spun out of control."


"Asset forfeiture was sold as a needed tool for law enforcement to attack drug kingpins and gang leaders," Rep. Irwin said. "[but] too often, law enforcement uses the current asset forfeiture law to take tens of millions of dollars every year, mostly from low-level users and small-time dealers.

We need to change how asset forfeiture works. By requiring a person be convicted of a crime before their seized property is subject to forfeiture, we will stop the worst abuses and curtail the insidious incentives that lead some law enforcement to short circuit due process and the fundamental principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty."

According to the Michigan State Police, the primary goal of asset forfeiture is "to deter and punish drug criminals by taking away the goods, property, and money obtained through illegal activity." But, as a report from Michigan State Police Director Kriste Etue notes, it can also serve as an "important supplement" to police funding.

Others agree.

"Police departments right now are looking for ways to generate revenue, and forfeiture is a way to offset the costs of doing business," Sgt. Dave Schreiner, who runs Canton Township's forfeiture unit, told The Detroit News in 2009. "You'll find that departments are doing more forfeitures than they used to because they've got to — they're running out of money and they've got to find it somewhere."

This suggests that law enforcement agencies have an incentive to seize money and property to enhance their budgets.

In Michigan, if cash or property is valued at more than $50,000 a court proceeding is required for it to be seized. But if the amount is less than that, the seizing can be "streamlined" and taken administratively. Eighty-nine percent of assets were taken this way in 2012.

A 2011 law changed how agencies could use funds. Previously, money was restricted to drug law enforcement. Now, the funds can be used for all law enforcement activities and can also be provided to nonprofit agencies; 3 percent was spent that way in 2011.

Law enforcement agencies seized at least $26.5 million in cash and assets in 2012 with 60 percent coming from the state police and local agencies. These funds are used for equipment, crime programs and matching grants to obtain more federal money.

Michigan has weak confiscation laws, according to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that represents people whose money and property have been seized despite them not having committed a crime. The state received a "D-" for its forfeiture laws, according to an IJ study published in 2010.

Many of the high profile forfeiture cases come as a result of federal agency actions, and several have occurred in Michigan.

Last November, the government seized $135,000 from the Cheung family restaurant. Though no criminal charges were filed, the feds went after them for making bank deposits under $10,000. Banks must notify the government when they receive deposits of $10,000 or more. After the money was taken, the family could not pay their property taxes or inventory costs for their restaurant. Eventually, charges were dropped.

The family was represented by Stephen Dunn, an attorney in Troy. He said Rep. Irwin's proposed bill is good, but should go further.

"[The bill] provides necessary due process before property is forfeited to the state, but it does not go far enough," Dunn said. "It is an important first step. But much more needs to be done concerning Michigan asset forfeiture law."

He suggested a law that requires notification to the property owner within a certain amount of time, criminal proceedings within a timeframe, the release of seized funds if they are required to pay for legal defense, a way for property to be returned and litigation costs paid if a defendant is not successfully prosecuted by the state.

In another case, in January, the bank account of the Dehko family, which owns a grocery store in Fraser, was seized by federal agents. The family was not charged with a crime, but the government seized $35,000. This past spring, the IRS confiscated $70,000 from Mark Zaniewski, a Sterling Heights gas station owner. He was not charged with a crime. The owners of the businesses teamed up with IJ andthe cases were dropped.

This week, it was reported by the Associated Press that John Gutowski, the owner of Brougham Manor apartments in Plymouth, has been trying to recover $250,000 from the federal government. Gutowski was charged with knowing about and helping recent immigrants establish legal citizenry by committing marriage fraud. He denied the charges and they were dropped, but the criminal complaint means the government still holds money seized from his bank account.

Another bill pending in the legislature, House Bill 5081, sponsored by Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, has bipartisan support and would require more transparency in forfeiture cases.

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seems like an excellent idea.


i am on board if they can stick to it.


i always thought you had to be convicted of the crime before the forfeiture was valid.


i now know as many here do that in todays atmosphere LEO just have to show up and they can and do take your things.


thank you



You are not alone most do until it happens to them its  like thinking that the truth will be heard in a Court room in front of a jury 

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I got pulled over for doing 35 in a 25 mph zone in roseville yrs ago, I had a bottle of 5/500 vicodens in my glove box.  They were mine, I had yrs worth of prescriptions for them, But the bottle did not have a lable on it, (that alone is against the law) leo's asked me who's meds were they, I said mine, they kinda laughed and asked me where they came from, I said the pharmacy!  The laughed out loud! they than asked me again who did I get them from, I said a guy wearing a white coat behind a counter at 11 and harper, (cvs) so they impound my newer vehicle, they arrest me, when I get to the po po station they take me down stairs, not to jail but to the narcotics squad!  they are trying to get me to say I got them from some one other than the pharmacy!


I was down in their office for several hrs before they decided to book me and let me bond out for speeding and having ilegal narcotics on me!


I bond out, the next day I try to get my mini van out, they wont let me untill the case is over, I go to court for speeding tickets, I plead guilty and pay my fines and I get to walk, I ask the DA how do I get my vehicle out of impound, he says I need like 1500 bucks to put down just to get things rolling towards getting my van back!  I visit an attny and he tells me the same thing! I didnt have 1500 bucks, so I couldnt put a bond on it to go to court and prove I wasnt selling drugs to get my vehicle back!


I lost my mini van, I owed like 4500 on it, so I had to still make payments and I lost my vehicle, finaly after I think it is all over, I get a court notice for a felony possesion of narcotics, (I sheat you not) I get a court appted attny, he dont return my calls, I see him for the first time at my prelim, he is like an hr late, when he gets there he asks me what did you say at the probation office, you have to see a p.o before anything and they recomend how little or how much time you do, my attny says the p.o recomends 6 months in jail and 2 yrs probation, he (attny) starts telling me what I have to say when the judge asks this or that, I totaly am not paying attn to him, i was realy pissed!  so the first question the judge asks me is do you know why you are being prosecuted, I say no lol, and I take out 2 yrs worth of prescriptions for the vicodens im being charged for, she looks at my attny and the prosecuter and asks if they knew anything about this, they say no, I say yes they did, Im on disability and have been for 2 yrs now,,,,she looks at me and says I cant go thru with this trial today, what do you want to do mr.-------, I say I want to fire my attny and get a new one, she says I can do that but I have to hire my own attny, I say ok and walk!


I hire a friend of mine, he knows the prosecutor, they drop all charges, but I still didnt get my mini van back!!!!


Wow I could write a book of my phaq ups!


Happy Holidays!



Edited by phaquetoo
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"the existing poorly crafted (and in my view unconstitutional) law was originally advertised as a tool to be used on drug cartels, etc.. Rogue police tyrants took advantage of the language to steal from people who have never been convicted of any crime. This is the price we, as a society, pay when we allow legislators to pass laws which are not intended to apply equally to all. When the police are allowed to assume the position of judge, jury, and executioner in order to line their own coffers, we get absolute tyranny such as we have now. These agencies are no better than medieval tax collectors who took peoples property just because they could "in the name of the king". The fact that statute law, even sanctioned by the courts allowed this, does not nullify the fact that We The People, never gave consent to this type of action. This is just one more instance of government ignoring its own boundaries, and an electorate too brain numb to understand that their rights are being not just infringed upon, but trampled."


the law isn't being abused, its fulfilling its intent : (

Edited by grassmatch
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Michigan has like the worst forfeiture laws.


I truly hope this bill passes,... and it doesn't solve all the problems either actually. But it would be a good start.


 But, unfortunately, I would say Irwin has no play in the Lansing game. Republicans favour the seizures and crime punishment,.. democrats favour Unions and crime punishment,... so,... ya end up with overreach by law enforcement.


 If anything changes, I will be surprised.

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 I do think  things will change when Rep. Irwin was at the Birmingham C.C meeting  once he spoke about how other Rep's. didn't even know there was a Law like we have now taking peoples things even if they  had broke no Law 


i agree with Letterhead954 we need to support Rep. Irwin and this Bill and write your own Rep to let him/her know

Edited by mibrains
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One would think that the practice of seizing assets without due process would be unconstitutional.


So come on Republicans. I know you love the constitution, so start defending it already!

Republicans love the Constitution? They may find it convenient when it suits them, but otherwise pay lip service to it, and at worst circumvent it.

Edited by GregS
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