Simply questioning civil forfeiture apparently can get you arrested and jailed in Michigan.
On Feb. 23, cancer patient Thomas Williams, 72, was featured in a Detroit Free Press article about a drug taskforce’s seizure of his television, cell phone, shotgun, and $11,000 in cash – and its attempt to take his farm. Just a few days later, on March 14, 2015, Williams was arrested on 16-month-old charges related to his allegedly growing too much medicinal marijuana.
“It’s straight up theft,” Williams’ attorney, Daniel Grow, said of the actions of the Michigan State Police’s Southwestern Enforcement Team, or SWET.
It all started in November 2013, when team members in masks broke down Williams’ door with a battering ram, handcuffed him and held him on the floor while they examined his house and took his property. Williams’ alleged crime was that he had grown 24 marijuana plants, double what is allowed for him under Michigan law. Williams said he was within the law because the other plants had begun to die, and he had cloned them and started new seedlings – although they weren’t planted yet, he told the Free Press. The “extra” plants over the limit didn’t even have roots yet, and he had planned to use them to replace the old ones.
Williams is a retired carpenter.
“He is disabled and lives alone,” Grow said of Williams. “They took the man’s cell phone and his car, and left him out there alone. He doesn’t have a landline. He was stranded out there for three days until somebody stopped by.”
It’s All About The Money
The seizure of the property “does not match the crime,” Grow said.
“It’s absurd. They grow an extra plant and suddenly they’re subjected to forfeiture,” he said. “A lot of my practice is made up of these kinds of cases — middle-aged, middle-income people who have never been in trouble before. It’s all about the money.”
Under Michigan state law, agencies can seize property and money suspected of being bought with proceeds from a crime — even if there are no charges. All proceeds from forfeiture go to the agency seizing the assets.
(Listen to Off The Grid Radio’s in-depth report on civil forfeiture here.)
The Free Press reported that police seized $24.3 million in property and cash from Michigan residents in 2013. SWET, the agency that raided Williams’ house, made $376,612 from the practice in 2013, according to The Free Press.
Williams hired an attorney and – more than a year after the raid — began speaking out against forfeiture. He was one of several forfeiture victims profiled in a Feb. 23, 2015, Free Press story. A few weeks later, he was in jail. Michigan officials deny any connection. Shanon Banner, a Michigan State Police spokeswoman, said the request for the warrant was made in December 2014 and it was approved in March.
A Perversion Of The Right To Due Process
Democratic state Rep. Jeff Irwin said there are not enough safeguards.
“These forfeitures set off fundamental constitutional alarm bells,” Irwin told the newspaper. “It’s a perversion of our right to due process.”
He has heard other “horror stories,” specifically regarding medical marijuana.
“The police were breaking into caregivers’ homes, showing up in riot gear, with guns, and then walking off with all the stuff,” Irwin said. “And the homeowners were being told if you mess with us, we’re going to mess with you. If you want to escape without a charge, just shut up and walk away.”
Other Forfeiture Nightmares
Vietnam veteran Ed Boyke, 69, told The Free Press that Saginaw County Sheriff’s deputies and DEA agents went through his wallet and took $62 in cash claiming that he, too, was growing too many plants. The deputies also took a wide-screen TV, a 2008 car, a leaf blower, an air compressor and even a dehumidifier. Boyke had a state-issued medical marijuana card and grew cannabis to control pain from brain surgery.
To add insult to injury, deputies came back the day after raiding Boyke’s house and told him to hand over $5,000 in cash – or they would take his house. Boyke drove to the credit union and gave them the money. He has never been charged with a crime.
“I was afraid,” Boyke said. “I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to lose my house.”
It is easy to see why the Institute for Justice gave Michigan a D- among all states when analyzing forfeiture laws.
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