Detroit Police can't seize your property just for committing a crime, Supreme Court rules

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click to enlarge Detroit Police can't seize your property just for committing a crime, Supreme Court rules
Steve Neavling

A U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous ruling Wednesday is expected to curb local and state law enforcement's ability to take ownership of cash, cars, homes and other private property used to commit a crime.

In 2017, police in Michigan seized more than $13 million in property from drug dealers under the state's civil forfeiture laws, according to the state's latest report.

Civil forfeiture is a common and controversial tool for local and state police to raise revenue for employees, vehicles, training, and supplies.

The court's decision focused on whether the value of the seized property was proportional to the crimes committed.

In this case, police in Indiana refused to return Tyson Timbs' $42,000 Land Rover after he pleaded guilty to selling $225 worth of heroin. Police claimed they had a right to keep his SUV because he used it to sell heroin.

But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying the seizure amounted to an "excessive fine," which is banned by the Eighth Amendment. The high court said the value of the SUV was "more than four times the maximum $10,000 monetary fine assessable against Timbs for his drug conviction."

The ruling, however, does not mean civil forfeitures will stop. Ultimately, judges will determine whether a forfeiture is excessive.

It's unclear what impact the ruling will have on Detroit Mayor Duggan's initiative to seize the homes of drug dealers and negligent owners.

The Detroit Police Department, which has long been criticized for relying on forfeitures for revenue, didn't respond to Metro Times request for comment.

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About The Author

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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