Can the Government Steal Your Property?

Can the Government Steal Your Property?

In 2017, more than 700 people -11% of all civil forfeitures- had property forfeited to Michigan law enforcement agencies without being charged with a crime. More than 200 defendants were charged and found not guilty, but the government still kept their assets. Some consider such government overreach a form of stealing.

Governor Whitmer recently signed a bill to limit asset forfeiture in drug cases. The bill, to be effective beginning January 1, 2020, imposes regulations on when law enforcement may permanently take ownership of cash and property seized in drug cases. Supporters of the new law believe the previous government seizure rules were an injustice, as the government profited from criminal activity and deprived citizens of due process. Previously, property, such as houses, vehicles, and other similar items were being permanently seized when people were arrested under drug charges regardless of whether the accused person was convicted.

Under the new law, law enforcement can only keep the seized property if they successfully obtain a criminal conviction or if the property or cash that was seized is more than $50,000. This means that if you are arrested on a drug charge and you are found not guilty, then law enforcement must return the property they seized during the arrest, with the exception of the contraband. With the passing of this bill, citizens will now receive protection against unlawful asset seizures without a finding of guilt.

Moreover, these rights do not stop at the state level. The United States Supreme Court recently held that law enforcement could not permanently seize property that is worth substantially more than the maximum fine for the crime committed. The Court justified its decision by using the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits excessive fines or fees. The Court reasoned that the government’s seizure of a vehicle worth more approximately $42,000 was disproportionate to the maximum fine of $10,000 for the drug related crime in question. Asset seizure of that proportion was constituted as an excessive fine, which is unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment.

It is important you are aware of your rights. If you or a loved one is charged with a drug related offense or have had property seized, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney. Call the Law Office of John Freeman today.