Graham Filler, a state legislator in Michigan, describes two recently enacted civil forfeiture bills as a “reform” that closed a dangerous “loophole.” In reality, the new laws open a dangerous loophole by authorizing forfeiture of cash carried by travelers at Michigan airports without a criminal conviction. That change represents a substantial reversal of reforms that Michigan enacted in response to complaints about a system that allows police to seize and confiscate property based on little more than a bare allegation that it is somehow connected to criminal activity.
“Traveling with cash is not a crime,” notes Institute for Justice senior attorney Dan Alban. “People regularly fly with large amounts of cash for a wide variety of completely legitimate reasons related to their business or personal finances. Allowing authorities to take air travelers’ cash without a criminal conviction, simply because they have a large sum of money, is a blatant violation of their rights. This will lead to innocent people losing their money and is a massive step in the wrong direction by Michigan lawmakers.”
As Rep. Filler (R–DeWitt) tells it, Michigan’s civil forfeiture reforms, which legislators enacted in 2015, 2017, and 2019 after hearing testimony about greedy cops who indiscriminately stole people’s property, invited drug traffickers to carry their ill-gotten gains into and out of Michigan with impunity. “Drug trafficking will not be tolerated in Michigan,” Filler says. “The men and women who keep our airports secure need to have the proper authority to keep drugs and drug money out of our state—and this reform gives them the tools they need to get the job done.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, signed “this reform” into law last week. H.B. 4631, which Filler sponsored, makes an exception to a law requiring a criminal conviction before a forfeiture can be completed. It says that requirement does not apply to airport seizures of cash or other property worth more than $20,000. H.B. 4632, which was sponsored by Rep. Alex Garza (D–Taylor), eliminates a property owner’s right to seek a stay of forfeiture proceedings in such cases pending the outcome of a related criminal case.- READ MORE