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Civil Asset Forfeiture Model Language

Model language for a municipal charter amendment to address civil asset forfeiture. This language has been tailored to Michigan cities.

New Section ____ of the Charter of the City of ­­____, Michigan

Section ____. Property Seizure and Forfeiture.

As used in this section, “property” shall be liberally construed to include assets and possessions; “employee” includes anyone acting under the authority of the city. A conviction of a criminal offense is a prerequisite to forfeiture and the transfer to the City of _____ of title to property directly used in or derived from that offense. All revenues from forfeited property, including revenue derived from sharing proceeds of forfeited property from cooperation with other federal, state, or local agencies, shall be placed in a separate fund, used only to pay costs directly related to local street repair, and shall not be earmarked or allocated to law enforcement or code enforcement. At any time, a property owner may ask the City or a court to return property that was wrongly seized or because there is no reason for the City to continue to hold the property. No bond shall be required on any property seized under authority of the city. If property is wrongfully seized, the City has no reason to continue to hold the property, or the property owner is not convicted of a criminal offense that has a forfeiture provision, the city shall return, replace, or provide full compensation for any property damaged, defaced, or devalued as a result of seizure by city employees. Records of all property seizures shall be indexed by date, department, name of owner, property type, and seizure value, and include details of the conviction. These records shall be published monthly on the city’s publicly-accessible website consistent with Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act 442 of 1976.

 

Let’s break it down:

 

The language is a proposed charter amendment. The first line identifies this as a new law, gives the section of the charter, and the city name. If the language is approved this will not appear in the charter.

New Section ____ of the Charter of the City of ­­____, Michigan

 

Section title. This will appear in the charter. Not everyone is familiar with the phrase “civil asset forfeiture.” In this model “Property Seizure” was used to clarify the issue.

Section ____. Property Seizure and Forfeiture.

 

It is common to provide definitions for terms in the amendment.

                As used in this section, “property” shall be liberally construed to include assets and possessions; “employee” includes anyone acting under the authority of the city.

 

This is the meat and potatoes. Don’t take property unless a law has been broken, and then only take the property involved in the crime or gained because of the crime.

A conviction of a criminal offense is a prerequisite to forfeiture and the transfer to the City of _____ of title to property directly used in or derived from that offense.

 

This line is for cases of forfeiture with a conviction and to address revenue sharing with a state or federal agencies. Law enforcement should not be policing for profit. Proceeds from the sale of property should not go to those taking the property. In this model, the money is used for street repair. Check state statutes, forfeiture proceeds may be required to go into a specific fund. This model attempts to address the problem of local law enforcement teaming up with federal or state agencies to avoid state or local prohibitions on civil asset forfeiture.

All revenues from forfeited property, including revenue derived from sharing proceeds of forfeited property from cooperation with other federal, state, or local agencies, shall be placed in a separate fund, used only to pay costs directly related to local street repair, and shall not be earmarked or allocated to law enforcement or code enforcement.

 

Property owners should not be deprived of their assets indefinitely.

At any time, a property owner may ask the City or a court to return property that was wrongly seized or because there is no reason for the City to continue to hold the property.

 

Many states require a property owner to pay a bond before they are allowed to challenge a seizure.

No bond shall be required on any property seized under authority of the city.

 

If the items seized are perishable or have been damaged, the government should replace or fix the property. It’s important innocent owners not be penalized.

If property is wrongfully seized, the City has no reason to continue to hold the property, or the property owner is not convicted of a criminal offense that has a forfeiture provision, the city shall return, replace, or provide full compensation for any property damaged, defaced, or devalued as a result of seizure by city employees.

 

Transparency is needed to ensure the city complies with the law. This model includes the statutes dealing with government transparency in Michigan.

Records of all property seizures shall be indexed by date, department, name of owner, property type, and seizure value, and include details of the conviction. These records shall be published monthly on the city’s publicly-accessible website consistent with Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act 442 of 1976.

 

 

Civil Asset Forfeiture

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