Mississippi’s civil asset forfeiture laws

Published 7:00 am Friday, March 31, 2017

By Daniel Wise

Mississippi consistently ranks as one of the most corrupt and least transparent states in multiple studies. Civil asset forfeiture is utilized by our state without oversight and is easily abused. This type of forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. Now many agencies use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit motives.

Under current laws, agencies only need to loosely connect a property to a crime to seize it. They then use seized assets or proceeds from sale to supplement their budgets. Those whose property is seized must prove in a civil court that their property was not involved with a crime. This is clearly a violation of the Common law concept of being “Innocent until proven guilty”.

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The Institute for justice took data on asset forfeiture across 14 states, including California, Texas, and New York. Between 2002 and 2013, the revenue more than doubled, from $107 million to $250 million. Federal confiscations have risen even faster. In 1986 the Justice Department’s Assets Forfeiture Fund collected $93.7 million.

In 2014 the number was $4.5 billion (http://www.pimalp.org/civil-asset-forfeiture-libertarian-calamity/).The Mississippi legislature just passed House Bill 812, which is an attempt to reform our out of control

Civil Asset forfeitures.

It calls for:

1. The establishment of guidelines for law enforcement agencies to report each forfeiture, and any criminal prosecution or actions taken on the property owners.

2. Requiring the construction and maintenance of a searchable website by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

3. Implementing a new warrant system where a county or circuit judge must issue a seizure warrant within 72 hours. The agency will have to list what was taken and why and explain probable cause to justify the seizure.

4. A requirement that the local district attorney or the MBN prosecute all forfeitures, eliminating the hiring of outside counsel. This legislation is long overdue and is a great start, but we need to take it further and consider eliminating this government sanctioned theft.

The Libertarian Party beleives the current practice of civil asset forfeiture is unfair and un-American. Libertarians support law enforcement and their constitutional mandate of protecting us from assault, theft and fraud.