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New civil forfeiture law in effect this month is good for citizens

A new law that took effect January 18, 2016, makes it more difficult for Michigan law enforcement to seize assets from individuals who are suspected of being connected to a crime. This type of asset seizure is called "civil forfeiture," and it is a practice that has caused many innocent people to lose money, vehicles, personal property and real property.

You do not have to be convicted or even charged with a crime for civil forfeiture to happen to you. If, under the former law, police believed there was a "preponderance of evidence" that your property was used in connection with a crime, they were allowed take it. Sadly, the process of recovering seized property is often difficult, and many people lack the money to fight back. Those who do fight back face issues such as steep impound fees to get their vehicles back from police.

While it can happen during any criminal investigation, civil forfeiture often occurs during traffic stops or investigations of alleged drug crimes. There have been cases nationwide of people being pulled over for a traffic stop and having their cash seized because police assumed the money would be used to buy illegal drugs.

Under the former law, police could seize property basically by asserting that it was more likely than not linked to a criminal activity. The new law, however, has a higher standard than the former preponderance of evidence standard. Now, law enforcement will need "clear and convincing" evidence that the asset in question is linked to a criminal act.

Though beneficial in fighting certain types of crimes, especially drug crimes, the use of civil forfeiture has come into question as allegations of abuse were raised around the country.

If your civil or constitutional rights have been violated by law enforcement, speak to a lawyer to learn what you can do to protect yourself. An attorney who practices criminal law and civil rights law can assess your case and help you determine how to move forward.

Source: The Detroit News, "Michigan brings transparency to civil forfeiture," Jordan Richardson and Jason Snead, November 4, 2015.

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