Legislators call for oversight in civil asset forfeiture process

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State Reps. Jim Runestad of White Lake Township, Gary Glenn of Williams Township, and Beau LaFave of Iron Mountain, have introduced a package of bills to bring more oversight and transparency to Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture process.

Civil asset forfeiture refers to the act of law enforcement seizure of property such as cash, narcotics or other assets from citizens who are suspected of criminal activity. The practice is controversial but the group of Republican lawmakers believe there are ways to improve oversight of the process to make it better.

Runestad, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, sponsored the first bill in the package, which requires the county prosecuting attorney to review and obtain a court order for all forfeitures. If the forfeiture is not approved or a court order is not obtained, the seizing agency is required to return the property unless the property is harmful to the public or required to be destroyed.  

“Proper oversight provides a sense of confidence for law enforcement when seizing property in the name of public safety,” Runestad stated. “Prosecutorial review provides a measure of oversight for the public so civil asset forfeiture cannot be abused.”

Glenn’s bill requires Michigan law enforcement officers to complete training designed to assist in lawful property seizure that may be subject to forfeiture.

“We must ensure our law enforcement officers are well-trained and using appropriate procedures when it comes to property seizure and that officers across the state are operating under the same set of procedures,” said Glenn.

LaFave’s bill will bring uniformity to the process of forfeiture throughout the state by placing local civil asset forfeiture processes under the exclusive domain of state law.

“We want to avoid a situation where police seize drug money in one town but not a neighboring town down the street,” LaFave said. “Our officers do fantastic work, but it is hard to their job effectively when the rules change drastically from one municipality to another. The civil asset forfeiture process needs uniform application across the whole state.”

House Bills 5702, (Runstead), 5703 (Glenn), and 5704 (LaFave) were referred to the House Judiciary Committee where they will be taken up for consideration in the coming weeks.

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