Michigan Repeals Bond Requirement for Civil Forfeiture Cases

A view of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.  Designed by Elijah E. Myers and completed in 1878, the Classical Revival building is a National Historic Landmark.

Michigan will no longer require property owners to post a cash bond of up to $5,000 before they can challenge a civil forfeiture case in court, under a bill signed by Gov. Rick Snyder. HB 4629 is one of the latest overhauls of civil forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to permanently confiscate private property, even if the owner was never convicted or criminally charged.

Previously, to challenge a property seizure, the owner had to post a bond worth 10 percent of the property’s value, albeit no less than $250 and no more than $5,000. Failure to post bond within 20 days of the property’s seizure would result in an automatic forfeiture to the government.

“In my many years as an attorney, I have seen the process of civil asset forfeiture spiral out of control,” said Rep. Peter Lucido, who sponsored HB 4629. “Tell me how a working single mother is going to post a 10 percent bond when everything she had has been taken? She’s not, because it will cost her more in legal fees than her property is worth.”

The bond’s impact on the poor even encountered a successful constitutional challenge. In August, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that that the requirement, when applied to low-income owners who could not afford to post bond, violated their right to due process.

With Gov. Snyder’s signature on January 4, only four states—Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island and Tennessee—force property owners to post a bond before they can appeal their case to a neutral judge.

“Removal of this requirement provides everyone with their day in court, regardless of their ability to pay,” Lucido added. “Our Constitution provides that we are innocent until proven guilty and this legislation aligns with state law on that fundamental principle.”

Lucido’s legislation continues a growing, nationwide trend of lawmakers overhauling civil forfeiture. In 2015, Michigan enacted a seven-bill reform package that raised the standard of proof to forfeit property in civil court and instituted new reporting requirements. On the same day HB 4629 was signed, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a new criminal conviction requirement for civil forfeiture cases under $15,000. Most dramatically of all, both New Mexico and Nebraska have abolished civil forfeiture entirely.

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