Michigan Starts Dismantling Its Forfeiture Reforms To Make It Easier To Steal Cash From People At Airports
from the can't-be-waylaying-the-robbery-squads dept
I guess it’s time to
pay get robbed by the piper. The state of Michigan has periodically enacted forfeiture reforms, often in response to bad press or lawsuit losses.
Michigan law enforcement has made the most of forfeiture privileges. Thanks to a reform passed in 2015, the public finally had access to data showing just how abusive law enforcement agencies were. A 2018 report [PDF] showed $13 million in property had been seized in 2017. Of that, $11 million was the cash. The rest was other property, including 7,999 cars. Some quick (but obviously inaccurate) math shows the average car’s worth to be less than $250.
Only 95 of the state’s 6,000 seizures were related to serious violent crimes. 80% were related to nothing more than suspected drug possession. Not exactly the sort of thing that cripples large criminal enterprises.
As the reforms slowly rolled in, so did the defenses of taking cash from people under the theory it had been illegally obtained without actually following through with the filing of criminal charges. A former Michigan police chief claimed that instituting a conviction requirement for any seizure under $50,000 would just encourage criminals to carry around slightly less than that amount. But if the chief is so sure these are criminals walking around with $49,900 on them, why is he so afraid of pursuing criminal charges?
That cognitive dissonance was never explained. Neither was this ridiculous statement by a Michigan prosecutor in response to the proposed $50,000 limit on conviction-less seizures:
”Since a conviction is now required, it will make it extremely difficult to prosecute high level drug dealers,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said via email.
Requiring prosecutors to prosecute suspected high level drug dealers will make it more difficult to prosecute high level drug dealers. Got it.
Well, the cops and the prosecutors are winning. As Jacob Sullum reports for Reason, the state’s government is starting to roll back these forfeiture reforms, starting with the state’s airports.
As Rep. Filler (R–DeWitt) tells it, Michigan’s civil forfeiture reforms, which legislators enacted in 2015, 2017, and 2019 after hearing testimony about greedy cops who indiscriminately stole people’s property, invited drug traffickers to carry their ill-gotten gains into and out of Michigan with impunity. “Drug trafficking will not be tolerated in Michigan,” Filler says. “The men and women who keep our airports secure need to have the proper authority to keep drugs and drug money out of our state—and this reform gives them the tools they need to get the job done.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, signed “this reform” into law last week. H.B. 4631, which Filler sponsored, makes an exception to a law requiring a criminal conviction before a forfeiture can be completed. It says that requirement does not apply to airport seizures of cash or other property worth more than $20,000.
This regrettable move was accompanied by an even more regrettable claim by Governor Whitmer.
By removing barriers to forfeiture of property “seized in association with a drug crime,” Whitmer said, the two bills “empower airport authorities to crack down on drug crimes at airports.”
But how does it do this? There’s no law against carrying any amount of cash through an airport and onto a domestic flight. There are reporting requirements if someone wishes to take more than $10,000 in cash out of the country, but there has never been a law enacted anywhere that makes carrying large amounts of cash on your person illegal. It may be inadvisable. But it’s still something it’s well within your rights to do.
This rollback means there’s no conviction requirement for any amount over $20,000, which is $30,000 less than the requirement for cash discovered outside of airports. If the interest is in cracking down on drug crime, maybe legislators should haul in law enforcement reps to ask them how nickel-and-diming people out of 25-year-old cars turned the tide in the state’s drug war. Maybe they could ask for clarification on how camping out on outgoing interstate lanes in hopes of seizing exiting cash (rather than incoming drugs) helps keep drugs out of the state. Or maybe they could ask prosecutors why they’d rather grab a percentage of seized cash than do their damn jobs, which is to seek convictions that are supposed to serve as a deterrent to other would-be drug traffickers.
But instead of asking any tough questions, the state and its governor have decided to let airplane passengers pay the literal price for law enforcement’s laziness and greed.