Police abuse of forfeiture laws are legend. For years, police in Michigan were able to confiscate cars for suspected “vice” activity based on only a “preponderance of the evidence” that a crime was committed. After intense lobbying efforts, the legislature strengthened due process protections by elevating the government’s burden of proof to “clear and convincing evidence.” However, in Wayne County, car forfeitures continued to be prosecuted under the more relaxed standard. The ACLU of Michigan provided direct representation on appeal to John Knoelk, a lifelong resident of Detroit, whose car was confiscated based on the accusation that he used it to pick up a prostitute. Mr. Knoelk was never arrested or charged with a crime, and at his forfeiture trial the primary evidence against him was the testimony of a police officer who saw a woman she “believed” to be a prostitute get into his car. At the end of the trial the judge said the government had proved its case by a preponderance, even though the law had been changed to require proof by clear and convincing evidence. In November 2018 the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial using the correct legal standard. When the correct legal standard was applied, the government failed to prove its case and was ordered to return Mr. Knoelk’s car.
(In re Forfeiture of 2006 Dodge Charger; ACLU Attorney Dan Korobkin.)