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Winning asset forfeiture proposals encourage Lucido to do more

November 14, 2017

Courtesy of MIRS News Service

Two Oakland County communities passed measures Tuesday requiring that a criminal conviction be a prerequisite before police can forfeit property. 

Keego Harbor and Lathrup Village join Orchard Lake Village and Sylvan Lake in passing these largely symbolic local ordinances since the local police rarely use civil asset forfeiture anyway. Keego Harbor passed their measure 53 to 47 percent. In Lathrup Village, it carried 75 to 25 percent.

Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) sees these results as a reason to push harder for House action on his bill to restrict use of forfeiture to cases where someone’s been convicted of a crime. 

“They’ve seen the wrongdoing,” he said about the communities. 

He’s already introduced the bill, HB 4158, back in March. The bill would require a conviction before police can seize property or cash. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it has yet to be considered.

That was one of the goals of the local initiatives. Scott Tillman, of the Liberty Initiative Fund, said the purpose of putting the questions on the local ballots was to show legislators the need for further reform on the issue. 

“Police officers are supposed to protect and serve. They were never intended to be taking people’s property because they are not a judge and they haven’t been elected by anyone . . . Judges should have the only authority because they are detached, neutral magistrates . . . When a police officer does a taking, optically it doesn’t look right,” Lucido said. 

It is a constitutional question. 

“We have an absolute right to due process,” he said. “We have an absolute right to be heard and to invoke our constitutional amendments. Until that happens, why are you taking my stuff?” 

Sgt. Tim Fitzgerald of the Michigan State Police (MSP) said it’s too soon to adopt further reforms to civil asset forfeiture. 

“We have a much different viewpoint. Civil asset forfeiture is a huge tool for us in combatting specifically narcotics trafficking,” Fitzgerald explained. “Just like any business, if you go after their assets you can really interrupt the operation and have some real effect. Conviction-only forfeiture is going to hamper the way that we do business.” 

Fitzgerald pointed out that the legislature just last year reformed the process of civil asset forfeiture. 

“I think that we need to look at the reforms that we’ve made, some of them that Rep. Lucido is responsible for — the elimination of forfeiture bond, the changing of the standard to ‘clear and convincing,’ and the additional reporting requirements. And really we only have one year of data to look at.”

He explained the report compiled by MSP as a result of last year’s reforms doesn’t include data gathered after the reforms took effect. He contended the state should wait until next year’s report comes out before considering whether further reforms are needed. 

“I know that Rep. Lucido makes some assertions of police overreach but, while I’m not going to deny those, I would say that those are exceedingly rare,” Fitzgerald said. “. . . I think there is due process that is in the process right now. The majority of the cases that Rep. Lucido is talking about, there is already a hearing process in place right now for that. There is significant due process in the current form.” 

But Lucido said last year’s reform was a start and he wants to finish the job. “We cut off the limbs. Now it is time to cut down the trunk.” 

“For many many years, law enforcement believed, and so did the legislature, that this was the be-all, end-all of solving the crime of selling drugs,” Lucido said, “by taking the person’s property that this would stop the criminal activity. It hasn’t. In fact, innocent people have been stripped of their goods and their belongings.”

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