Fault Lines
22 October 2017

Leave the Gun, Take the Vibrator

June 9, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Ginnifer Hency has multiple sclerosis.  She also has her neurologist’s permission to use medicinal marijuana in compliance with Michigan law.  Ginnifer Hency used to have a vibrator.  That is, until Michigan’s St. Clair County Drug Task Force raided her home last July and confiscated some rather personal property found on the premises.

Since Hency is a state-registered caregiver for five other patients who use medical marijuana, she was allowed by Michigan law to possess and deliver pot.  Not surprisingly then, a judge dismissed all of the criminal charges against her.

Hency’s vibrator, on the other hand, has not been so fortunate.  It, along with the rest of the seized property, remains in the clutches of the police.

Civil forfeiture law allows law enforcement to seize assets it believes were involved in the commission of criminal offenses.  According to Ginnifer Hency’s testimony, in her case, this evidently included household items, TVs, a ladder, phones . . . and, yes, even her vibrator.

When authorities seize property in this way, owners don’t automatically get their stuff back, even when criminal charges fall flat.  People like Hency must follow a costly, byzantine legal process at their own expense.  If prosecutors can show by a preponderance of the evidence — the lowest of legal proof standards — that the property was related to crime, law enforcement gets to keep the stuff.  Michigan, unlike most states, at least places the burden of proof on the government instead of on the property owner.  Such is the perverse reality of civil asset forfeiture.

Since the 1980s, local police departments, either on their own or in concert with the feds, have padded their coffers with billions of dollars raised through civil asset forfeiture.  The Institute for Justice and other advocacy groups have long argued that the system violates the rights of property owners and distorts the priorities of law enforcement.  It incentivizes going after the people with the most valuable property, not the people with the most criminal involvement.  Civil forfeiture is policing for profit.

This may explain why the St. Clair County Drug Task Force left behind light ballasts and other equipment that the Hencys used to grow marijuana.  Cops opted to leave behind exactly the sort of items that actually would be used to engage in criminal activity, if growing marijuana were in fact criminal for the Hencys.  Instead they snatched up items like the Hency kids’ iPads.

Fortunately, some state legislatures are considering reform of forfeiture laws.  This includes Michigan, where Rep. Klint Kesto has proposed amending the statutes to make it harder for police to keep what they confiscate.

I won’t pretend to know the resale value of used sex toys, any more than I can surmise how a vibrator might be used in the commission of drug offenses.  So, the officers who raided Hency’s home might have been policing for sadism as much as they were policing for profit.

Then again, perhaps the citizens of Michigan are truly lucky to have police brave enough to protect them from criminals and the vibrators they use to accomplish their heinous ends.

Main image via WikiMedia/Alper Iseri

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  • Civil forfeiture at its most absurd. | Leave the gun, take the vibrator | Official site of DJ Michael Heath
    9 June 2015 at 12:39 pm - Reply

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