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Study: Civil forfeiture does nothing to reduce drug abuse

by | Mar 20, 2021 | Narcotics And Drugs |

Cannabis may be legal for recreational use in Michigan, but the laws against many other recreational drugs are as harsh as ever. Michigan residents who are charged with drug crimes face the possibility of long prison sentences, steep fines and more.

One penalty that is often used against people convicted of drug crimes is civil forfeiture, even in cases where there is no doubt that the amount of drugs in question was for personal use – not for distribution. This means the police seize some of the defendant’s property and sell it. The proceeds from the sales go to the police department’s budget. In the states and cities where the practice is common, police often hold auctions to sell vehicles they have seized from people convicted of drug offenses and other crimes.

To some, this is a form of outright theft by the police.

Is civil forfeiture a deterrent?

Civil forfeiture has been a controversial subject for many years. Proponents of civil forfeiture say that this harsh penalty is necessary to discourage drug abuse, since it interferes with the profit motive that animates so much of the drug trade. A recent study casts doubt on that claim.

Researchers reviewed the data from Michigan and four other states where civil forfeiture is practiced and found no evidence to support the idea that civil forfeiture acts as a deterrent for drug crimes. The study looked at total revenues to police departments from their civil forfeiture programs and compared them to rates of drug use and drug crimes. In areas with higher rates of civil forfeiture they found no significantly lower rates of drug abuse or drug crimes.

One of the researchers noted that the value of the property seized in civil forfeiture is usually not very high, and so the loss is unlikely to have any effect on highly profitable drug trafficking operations. According to the researcher, nearly all the vehicles seized by Michigan law enforcement in 2017 were worth $1,000 or less.

Defending property, freedom and the future

While the loss of a $1,000 car is unlikely to do much to break down a major drug ring, it can be a terrible financial burden to many defendants, and this is added on top of the many other penalties they will face if they are convicted, including fines, costs, probation oversight fees, and fees for frequent and often unnecessary drug and alcohol testing.

With so much stacked against them, defendants need a strong voice speaking in their defense. A skilled defense attorney can help those accused of drug crimes to assess their options for protecting their freedom, their property and their future.