February 13, 2018 (Lansing) – The state’s leading small-business advocate, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), told the House Judiciary Committee today that small-business owners in Michigan want to see more reform of the state’s ‘civil asset forfeiture’ laws. The laws currently allow police agencies to seize private property without charging an individual with any crime. The committee hearing was on House Bill 4158 sponsored by Rep. Pete Lucido that would make further reforms to the law.
“Civil forfeiture laws allow the government to seize private property from a citizen or small-business owner without ever charging them with a crime or providing evidence prior to seizing assets, and the government (typically police departments) often pockets the proceeds while providing no prompt way to get a court to review the seizure,” said NFIB State Director Charlie Owens. “There is no incentive or requirement for the government to charge the business owner with a crime. Once the property is seized, government agencies are free to keep the property until the business owner pursues return of the property, which is often a costly and lengthy legal process that is stacked in favor of the government.”
“Many small business owners carry large cash sums to the bank and to other business locations for use in making change or deposits, and other small-business owners still use cash to make large supply purchases”
Owens thanked the Legislature for reforms passed in the previous session that included reporting requirements, raising the burden of proof to a ‘clear and convincing standard,’ and repealing the requirement for a property owner to provide a cash bond before he or she could contest a civil forfeiture seizure of their property. However, Owens said a survey of NFIB-member, small-business owners on the issue showed that 74 percent still want to see the law changed so private property is seized only after a criminal conviction is secured.
“Many small-business owners carry large cash sums to the bank and to other business locations for use in making change or deposits and other small-business owners still use cash to make large supply purchases,” said Owens. “All of these and other scenarios create a situation where small business is exposed to the potential of civil forfeiture seizures.”
Owens also related situations where a landlord may have tenants engaged in illegal activity, without the property owner’s knowledge or approval, and the landlord’s assets could be subject to seizure without a criminal charge ever being filed.
Testimony from a small-business owner located in Lake Orion supported Owens’ concerns. Neil Porter, owner of Vette Products related how police seized his auto parts inventory in a raid on his home and business and refused to return the items even after Porter obtained a court order demanding the return of the parts.