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A Better Partnership
August 04, 2016

COA: Michigan's civil forfeiture scheme is unconstitutional as applied to a claimant could not afford to post bond to challenge forfeiture

In In re Forfeiture of 2000 GMC Denali and Contents, No. 328547, the Court of Appeals held a claimant’s due process rights were violated where she was unable to contest the government’s seizing and resulting forfeiture of her property because she could not afford to post the bond required by civil forfeiture statute.  While the Court held that the statute was not unconstitutional on its face, as applied to the claimant, the civil forfeiture scheme operated to deprive her of a significant property interest without first affording her the opportunity for a hearing.
 
Shantrese Kinnon’s husband was arrested after he was seen by Grand Rapids Police Officers engaging in a hand-to-hand drug transaction with an unidentified person.  Following his arrest, the officers obtained a search warrant for his home.  While executing the search warrant, officers seized a 2000 GMC Denali, a 1986 Chevrolet El Camino, a 2002 YZFR motorcycle, a Nexus tablet, and a Compaq laptop computer.  As a result of the search of her home, Shantrese was arrested and charged with manufacturing marijuana and maintaining a drug house.  Shantrese and her husband were served with the required notices of the City of Grand Rapids’ intent to forfeit the property that was seized.  To be able to contest the validity of the forfeiture on all the property, Shantrese was required to post a $2,005 bond, but she could only afford to post a bond of approximately $1,100.  She was informed that because she did not have sufficient funds to contest all of the seized property, she would have to select items that she could afford to contest.  As a result, she did not post a bond for the Cadillac. 
 
The City of Grand Rapids filed a claim for forfeiture, and Shantrese moved to intervene, seeking to add the Cadillac to the proceedings and asserting that the bond requirement violated equal protection.  The trial court denied her motion, and held that the forfeiture statute was constitutional.  After trial, the court entered a judgment of forfeiture, forfeiting the 2000 GMC Denali and the motorcycle.
 
The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part.  First, the Court held that the State’s bond requirement effectively denied Shantrese the opportunity to be heard.  Indeed, the only avenue available to Shantrese was to post the statutorily required bond and seek to obtain a judgment declaring that her property was not subject to forfeiture.  Because of her inability to pay the required bond, however, Shantrese was excluded from the only forum effectively empowered to settle her dispute.  As a result, she was denied due process.  Second, the Court held that the trial court’s factual finding that the Denali and motorcycle were subject to forfeiture was not clearly erroneous as there was a substantial connection between the underlying criminal activity and the property.

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