Criminal Justice

Mississippi Joins Several States in Passing Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

Mississippi recently passed a law that will make the asset forfeiture process more open and transparent. Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 812 which improves its civil asset forfeiture process by adding more reporting requirements. Additional reporting requirements for seizures and forfeitures better protect private property rights. This important legislation was introduced by state Representatives Mark Baker and Cecil Brown.

Civil asset forfeiture is a major tool that law enforcement agencies use to combat criminal enterprises. However, there is often a low burden of proof that needs to be met for the agency seizing the property to obtain a judgment of forfeiture. Innocent individuals may lose property when they were never charged or convicted of a crime. Before the passage of HB 812, Mississippi ranked as one of the worst in the country in its civil forfeiture practices, according to the Institute for Justice (IJ). In IJ’s Forfeiture Transparency & Accountability report cards, Mississippi received an F. Prior Mississippi law did not require certain government agencies to record key details about properties seized and did not require reporting which agency performed the seizure. Also, previous law did not require easy public access to reports and records.

With the passage of HB 812, there is a lot more transparency within the state’s civil asset procedures. First, the new law requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a seizure warrant within 72 hours of a seizure. A seizure warrant is a legal document that allows agencies to seize property when it is believed that the property may have been used in a crime or purchased from the proceeds of a crime. They must also follow-up with a request to proceed with the forfeiture within 30 days of the seizure. The new law will require that the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics maintain a website which shows the descriptions and values of seized property, which agency seized the property and any court petitions challenging the seizures. The new law will also hold agencies more accountable by withholding grant funding from any state agency which fails to comply with the new reporting requirements. However, the new law does not require agencies to report how asset forfeiture proceeds are spent. Jennifer McDonald of the Institute for Justice believes this should have been included in the new reporting requirements. “With forfeiture, law enforcement agencies can keep some or all of the proceeds from the property they take… At a bare minimum, agencies should have to report how they spend forfeiture proceeds,” McDonald said.

Mississippi has taken the first steps in making sure that citizens’ private property rights are not infringed upon. The improved reporting requirements are a step in the right direction. The ALEC model Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Property Protection Act outlines many of these important reporting requirements that were passed in Mississippi.

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