St. Joseph Michigan Criminal Defense Blog

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Michigan Forfeiture Laws

New Reforms Aim to Improve Michigan Forfeiture Laws

Michigan Forfeiture Laws
In February of 2016, the Michigan legislature passed laws that significantly change how police departments across the state engage in civil forfeiture, a process that has long been controversial because it contradicts the traditional maxim of innocent until proven guilty.

What is Civil Forfeiture?

There are two processes for forfeiture in Michigan: civil forfeiture and criminal forfeiture. Under both processes, police departments can seize items of personal property, such as automobiles and cash, which they suspect have been involved in criminal activity. The difference between the two processes ultimately boils down to two points: who has the burden of proof and what they must prove.

With criminal forfeiture, the burden of proof is on the government, and they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the property was used to commit a crime. In a criminal forfeiture action, the government brings an action to temporarily seize a criminal defendant’s property at the same time that he or she is charged with a crime. The police then temporarily confiscate the property until the conclusion of the owner’s case. If the owner is convicted, the property becomes government property; if he or she is found innocent, the property must be returned.

With civil forfeiture, the police are not required to formally charge the owner with a crime before seizing the property; they need only have a suspicion that a crime has taken place. To seize property, the police need only show that it was more likely than not that the property was used in the commission of that crime. Once the property has been seized, the burden of proof shifts to the property owner, who must prove that it is more likely than not that the property was not used in the commission of a crime. If they cannot meet this burden, the seized items will permanently become government property.

The Effect of the New Reforms

Civil forfeiture in Michigan is controversial because it allows police departments to seize personal property with limited evidence, and because it forces the property owner to prove their innocence, rather than forcing the government to prove their guilt.

The new laws enacted by the Michigan legislature aim to make it more difficult for the police to seize property under civil forfeiture. Under the new law, instead of being required to prove their suspicion that the property was used for criminal activity by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e. that such criminal activity was “more likely than not”), police must show criminal use by “clear and convincing evidence”. While this standard is still easier for police to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used for criminal forfeiture, it is significantly harder for the police to meet than the previous standard.

The Importance of Representation in Contesting Civil Forfeiture

Even with the new reforms, it is likely that reclaiming property seized by police under civil forfeiture will remain a difficult and time-consuming process. Often the government will require the property owner to post a bond equal to 10% of the property’s value before the owner can contest its seizure. Even after posting this bond, the process requires the property owner to negotiate with the prosecutor’s office, during which time, they may face significant hardship resulting from their inability to use the seized property.

If you or someone you know has had their personal property seized by the police under civil forfeiture, the most important thing that you can do to maximize your chances is to secure effective legal representation. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the confusing requirements involved in the civil forfeiture process and give you a critical edge in negotiations with the prosecutor’s office for the return of your property. With decades of experience in contesting forfeiture cases, Peter J. Johnson is one of most experienced and reputable defense attorney in Southwest Michigan. To schedule a free consultation regarding your property seized under civil forfeiture, contact Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC at 269.982.1100 or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com.

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Michigan medical marijuana act

MI Medical Marijuana Act Requirements Trump 2012 Transportation Law

Michigan medical marijuana act
Passed in 2008, the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) decriminalized the cultivation, use and transportation of marijuana that is used for medical purposes. The law also included a provision stating that the Act’s provisions were controlling in determining how medical marijuana would be regulated by the state. Since that time, however, the legislature has passed several laws that add additional restrictions on how marijuana can be grown and transported. The legality of these additional requirements was discussed in Michigain v. Latz, a recent decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

In Latz, the defendant was charged with the illegal transportation of marijuana under a 2012 law. That law required medical marijuana transported in an automobile to be either enclosed in a case within the trunk of the vehicle or within a case that was not readily accessible within the interior of the vehicle. Although the prosecution acknowledged that the defendant, a patient under the MMMA, was in compliance with the transportation requirements of the MMMA, it argued that he was nonetheless guilty because he had not complied with the additional transportation requirements of the 2012 law. The defendant in turn argued that the MMMA’s provisions invalidated those of the 2012 law.

Although it found that the 2012 law was likely passed with the intent of adding additional requirements to the MMMA, the court nonetheless ruled in favor of the defendant. In reaching this conclusion, the court noted that the language of the MMMA expressly invalidated other laws that penalized the otherwise legal use and transportation of medical marijuana under the MMMA. Therefore, because the 2012 law added additional requirements for the transportation of medical marijuana that were not present in the MMMA, the defendant could not be penalized for these additional requirements if he had already complied with the MMMA.

For further information concerning the issues surrounding the changes in regulation of medicinal marijuana use in Michigan, contact Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC, a leading drug attorney in Southwest Michigan at 269.982.1100 or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com.

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