Recent reports revealed that Michigan police are seizing citizens’ property more than almost anywhere else, but a U.S. Congressman from the seizure-plagued state is trying to change things.
Michigan police seized more than $24 million from Michiganders in 2013, often without charging or convicting them of a crime, reports The Detroit Free Press. This is among the worst in the nation.
Civil asset forfeiture is a practice where police can seize your property if they believe it is related to criminal activity, all without convicting or even charging you of a crime. Then you have to endure the difficult process of getting your property back, often without success. Meanwhile police can keep the money they get from auctioning off items and use it for their own purposes.
One such victim, Thomas Williams, is a disabled cancer patient who grows marijuana for medical use, as permitted by law.
But police raided his home in November of 2013, using a battering ram to bust in the door before ransacking his home and confiscating many of his belongings. Though they never charged him, they claimed a few seedling plants put him over the legal limit.
Police took nearly everything, from his vehicle to $11,000 cash to his television. Now they are doing their best to get his home, the Free Press reports.
When the Free Press broke this report, it elicited outrage from the public and increased attention to an issue that has already received its fair share in recent months, due in part to Eric Holder’s decision to limit a small amount of asset forfeitures earlier this year.
Michigan Representative Tim Walberg told TheDCNF that investigations into police departments’ stunning powers are fueling growing momentum to solve this problem.
“All of these factors generate momentum for much-needed legislation like the FAIR Act,” Walberg told TheDCNF. “I’ve been working on this issue since last year, and I’m glad to see a growing awareness of forfeiture abuse around the country create a sense of urgency for legislation to protect the basic constitutional rights of our citizens.”
Walberg has introduced the FAIR ACT, a reform bill identical to Senator Rand Paul’s in the Senate. The bill would, among other things, make it more difficult for police to seize property, make sure people can get a lawyer to get their property back and require funds taken by police to go to the general treasury instead of their own pockets.
Many are doubtful of the bill’s chances of actually getting through Congress, at least anytime soon, but Walberg is hopeful. Just last week, groups as polarized as the ACLU and FreedomWorks came together in a coalition to address the issue.
“At a time when Washington, D.C. is gridlocked, reforming civil asset forfeiture laws presents a unique opportunity to accomplish meaningful results,” Walberg told TheDCNF. “The FAIR Act has strong bipartisan support across the ideological spectrum in both the House and Senate. Multiple Committees are investigating the federal government’s stunning seizure powers. ”