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.

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Comments on “Michigan Starts Dismantling Its Forfeiture Reforms To Make It Easier To Steal Cash From People At Airports”

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18 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re:

On paper those rights mean laws like this could be challenged in court, potentially overturning them so the state and law enforcement once more have to at least pretend to respect the public’s rights for a time.

In practice… it’s a bit more complex and difficult, as criminals tend to react poorly when someone threatens their source of ill-gotten wealth and that applies all the more so when they’re official criminals and believe they have a right to take whatever they want.

David says:

Re: Actually, that would be a case for Supreme Court packing

Since the founding times, the speed with which laws take effect have exploded, and the effects have exploded as well. That means that lawmakers can pass unconstitutional laws much faster than the Supreme Court has a chance to examine them, just to have them succeeded by other bad laws making for a continuity of unconstitutionality with only slight interruptions.

If you take a look at the docket of the Supreme Court, it’s clear that they need to be very selective about preserving the Constitution and will be rather slow, to boot.

And the lower circuits are not doing a whole lot of weeding out unconstitutional laws. After all, states pay their appeals out of taxpayer money and will regularly appeal “but I want it” laws all the way to the Supreme Court that can only look at a fraction.

This doesn’t work, and the legislative and executive, vastly outmanning the Supreme Court particularly when including state legislative, makes ample use of this not working.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Innocent until proven guilty'? Not in Michigan you're not

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.”

So forfeitures will only apply to convicted drug dealers/carriers then, to make sure the state’s not just robbing people who happen to be carrying cash and claiming that it’s drug related?

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.

… oh.

Another fine example of the biggest criminals in a state being the ones on the public payroll to theoretically uphold the law, and corrupt politicians tripping over themselves to empower them to do so.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re:

Like these are the first kids he’s killed…
Before the covid losses its not like his state had ‘lost’ hundreds of foster kids, many of whom were killed by the foster parents who kept cashing the checks… oh wait.

I think he is just trying to round out the age range of those he kills, all those old people he left to die after the hurricanes (and passed laws to keep the owners of senior care facilities from being sued for just leaving these helpless people to die in the heat) & then all of the old folks who listened to him pretending covid was fake… He wants to run for President in 2024 so he wants to show he is an equal opportunity murderer, no one is to young or to old for him to sacrifice on the altar of his ego.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Florida kills children. "But they were already born" says Governor DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis is killing Florida’s children.

I’m pretty sure, to paraphrase SCOTUS “justice” Alito, that killing childen isn’t mentioned in the Constitution. Now does that mean that it’s proscribed against, or OK to do.

No killing should occur until AFTER the baby is born. Lock them up in cages; make them sleep on a cold concrete floor; let them know there’s no appealing a state court saying they will be executed no matter what representation they had… because they have no rights.

Unless of course they have a beating heart.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re:

And Alito is wrong, as per usual. The Fifth Amendment specifically says, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Any child who dies unnecessarily of COVID has been deprived of life without due process of law, so if it’s at the behest of the State Governor, that’s a clear violation of the Fifth Amendment, and also the Fourteenth Amendment.

JoeDetroit (profile) says:

Take the car!

Suspected of breaking the law? Caught being in a high crime neighborhood asking directions on the street? They take your car. No conviction needed. You gotta buy it back from them. Or get threatened with 90 days for a misdemeanor (explain that to your boss). No arrest, no charges, but your car is gone unless you got thousands of dollars to buy it back.

Bruce C. says:

Whitmer's secret agenda?

While appearing to most voters to be taking a hard line on drug trafficking, what she is really doing is trying to increase passenger rail ridership on Amtrak as part of the Democratic party’s green agenda to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After all, if you can carry more cash on Amtrak than on airlines, all the criminals and drug syndicate mules will obviously move to Amtrak.

ECA (profile) says:

So you want to be a kingpin

Why not?
You get to be the straight guy in the system. You have a bank account and soforth.
What an easy job. I get to forward money thru the banks from 1 place to another, and get a small %.
I look like a Large property owner. I have many accounts. I can send money anywhere I want, using the bank system.
So, who is the person running around with Money in their pockets, going Anyplace?
You cant hide money that way. Use the system.

David says:

Re:

You shouldn’t be showing off expensive cars to law enforcement unless you are a member of a class that law enforcement knows not to mess with.

You know, like CEOs, members of Congress, well-off white people and drug lords.

But the others don’t get to show off wealth to law enforcement without peril of retribution. It’s sort of a Maxwell’s demon against class mobility.

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