Policing for Profit
Michigan earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws.
Higher bar to forfeit in limited cases: Weak conviction provision falls short of criminal forfeiture (see “The Problem with ‘Conviction Requirements’”). It applies only if an owner contests forfeiture, putting the burden on owners to engage in a costly legal battle and making it easy for the government to forfeit without a conviction. It does not require conviction of the owner, only of a “defendant,” and does not apply to cash over $50,000. Once the conviction provision is satisfied, property must be linked to a drug crime by clear and convincing evidence or to another crime by preponderance of the evidence.
Limited protections for the innocent: Generally, the government must prove third-party owners knew about criminal activity connected to their property, but the owner bears the burden in drug cases involving property valued above $50,000.
Large profit incentive: In drug cases, 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement; 75% in all other cases.
The letter grade reflects the state's forfeiture laws as of December 2020. When we become aware of relevant reforms, we are updating the standard of proof, innocent owner burden and financial incentive language above, but we are not updating the letter grade.
- (2019) HB 4002: Minor reform. Imposed new notice requirement, but also imposed new burdens on owners claiming seized property.
- (2019) HB 4001/SB 2: Created weak conviction provision.
- (2017) HB 4629: Eliminated bond requirement for owners challenging forfeiture.
- End civil forfeiture
- Direct all forfeiture proceeds to a non-law enforcement fund
- Strengthen protections for innocent third-party owners
- Close the equitable sharing loophole
- Strengthen transparency and accountability requirements
State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019
Between 2005 and 2018, Michigan law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $252 million under state law. Between 2000 and 2019, they generated an additional $187 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $439 million in forfeiture revenue. Michigan ranks 40th for its participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. The state does not prevent state and local agencies from using equitable sharing to circumvent state forfeiture law.
At least $439 million in state and federal forfeiture revenue
|Year||Michigan Forfeiture Revenues||Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds||Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds||Total||
$0 ↦ $44,264,597
Department of Justice
Michigan Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card
|B-||Tracking Seized Property|
|F||Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending|
|B||Statewide Forfeiture Reports|
|A||Accessibility of Forfeiture Records|
|D *||Penalties for Failure to File a Report|
|B||Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts|
For full transparency and accountability grades, visit www.ij.org/TransparencyReportCards.
Forfeitures Under Michigan Law: Key Facts
From 2016 to 2018, half of Michigan’s currency forfeitures were worth less than $423.
From 2016 to 2018, nearly half of Michigan’s forfeitures were of currency.
Civil vs. CriminalUNKNOWN
Michigan does not report whether forfeitures are processed under civil or criminal forfeiture law.
From 2016 to 2018, 42% of Michigan law enforcement’s forfeiture spending was on equipment and capital expenditures; another 22% was undefined.
Forfeiture data were obtained via public records requests to the Michigan State Police. Figures for 2005 through 2015 represent agency-level proceeds. Figures for 2015 through 2018 represent value of forfeited property. Expenditure figures are from the annual reports on MSP’s website and exclude mandatory victim compensation paid from 25% of forfeiture proceeds related to non-drug crimes. Figures for 2005 through 2014 are in fiscal years, while those for 2016 through 2018 are in calendar years. 2015 figures represent a mix of calendar- and fiscal-year reporting by agencies. Equitable sharing data are from DOJ’s and Treasury’s annual forfeiture reports. Due to differences in reporting and accounting practices, state figures may not match aggregate numbers produced by the state or cover the same 12-month period as the federal data.
Standard of proof: Weak conviction provision does not require conviction of an owner, but only of a “defendant”—and only for contested forfeitures of property worth less than $50,000. After the conviction provision is satisfied, property must be linked to drug crimes by clear and convincing evidence and to other crimes by a preponderance of the evidence.
Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 333.7521a(1–2), a(6), (2), 600.4707(6).
Innocent owner burden: Depends on the property. Generally, the government bears the burden of proof. But for drug-related forfeitures of property valued over $50,000, the owner bears the burden.
Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 333.7523a(2)(b) (burden on government in drug-related forfeitures), 600.4707(6)(b) (burden on government in other forfeitures); see id. §§ 333.7521a(6), .7523a(1) (procedures do not apply in drug-related forfeitures of property valued over $50,000); see also id. §§ 333.7521(1)(d)(ii), (f), 333.7531(1) (burden on owner in drug-related forfeitures under pre-reform procedure).
Financial incentive: 100% in drug-related forfeitures; 75% in other forfeitures.
Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 333.7524(1)(b)(ii), 600.4708(1)(f).