Mary and Kenneth Paul Murray might lose their home to a drug taskforce even though they never were charged with a crime.
The Michigan couple is fighting the state of Michigan and the Grand Traverse (County) Narcotics Team (TNT), both of which assert the home is a product of “ill-gotten gains” from illegal sales of medicinal marijuana. But the couple is not facing any charges in Grand Traverse County.
Kenneth Murray operated legal marijuana dispensaries in Kalkaska, Grand Traverse and Wexford counties. TNT says Murray sold medical marijuana to people who weren’t his patients and also sold illegal edible products, The Record Eagle reported.
Medicinal marijuana is legal in Michigan.
The Murrays’ home is worth $262,657, according to tax records. Civil forfeiture allows courts to seize money from suspected criminals even when no charges have been filed.
Burden of Proof Is Low
“There is no evidence that any of the proceeds that were in the bank are the product of any illegal activity,” the Murrays’ attorney, James Hunt, wrote in a court statement. “This is a general assumption and there is no accounting that has been done to prove that allegation.”
If the county is successful, then all of the money from the sale of the house will go toward the police department.
TNT Detective Sergeant Randy Graham insisted “it’s not a money grab” and that forfeiture is used “so that the criminals involved in the drug trade don’t benefit from their crimes financially,”
TNT received $90,494 from civil forfeitures in 2014 and $147,319 in 2013. It uses that money to buy equipment, pay administrative salaries and buy drugs in undercover sting operations, Graham told the newspaper.
One of the most controversial aspects of forfeiture is the burden of proof. Although a criminal conviction requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a civil forfeiture case only requires “probable cause” – a much lower standard.
It means that people often have their items seized by police without being charged – with the police department benefiting. Clark Neily of the Institute for Justice called it “policing for profit,” The Record Eagle reported
“They prove in a criminal proceeding in front of a jury that you are, in fact, a drug dealer and you, in fact, used the boat and the house and the car to distribute the drugs,” Neily said. “That just doesn’t happen with civil forfeiture …. Civil forfeiture is triggered by the mere allegation of criminal activity.”
The Institute for Justice, in a report, gave Michigan a D- for its forfeiture laws.
Part of the problem in Michigan is the text of the medical marijuana law, which is confusing and poorly written, Neily said.
“Law enforcement, in many jurisdictions in Michigan, have been extremely aggressive in exploiting the ambiguities and they go after people with a vengeance,” Neily said.
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