Impossible Bond Requirement in Forfeiture Case

May 20, 2015

When police officers in Alpena searched Carmen Villeneuve’s house in August 2014 because they believed she was selling marijuana, they seized all of Ms. Villeneuve’s money—every last penny.

Although forfeiture laws allow the government to confiscate assets that are tied to illegal activity, Ms. Villeneuve says the money in question came from her disability payments and a car accident settlement, not drug activity.

The problem is that under Michigan law, Ms. Villeneuve cannot even make this argument in court unless she first posts a bond equal to 10 percent of the value of the seized property.

Because the state is currently in possession of all her assets, she was unable to post the bond, and the court ordered her property forfeited to the state without ever considering whether the government could prove that the money it had taken was tied to illegal activities.

In November 2014, the ACLU of Michigan entered the case and filed a motion for reconsideration on Ms. Villeneuve’s behalf, arguing that the mandatory bond requirement is unconstitutional because it deprives indigent individuals of their property without due process of law.

In February 2015, the Alpena County Circuit Court rejected the ACLU's arguments. But after the ACLU appealed, the prosecutor agreed that Ms. Villeneuve could have a hearing. 

(In re Forfeiture of $19,940; ACLU Attorneys Miriam Aukerman and Dan Korobkin.)