Criminal Justice

States Continue To Make Civil Asset Forfeiture Process More Transparent

Civil asset forfeiture abuses in various states throughout the country are well-documented. There are several instances individuals have seen their property seized by the state or federal government, despite the fact they were never charged with a crime. Additionally, it is very difficult for individuals to get their seized property back. For those whose property has been forfeited, that process is even more daunting. In many instances, the burden is on the individual whose property was seized to prove their innocence. States have begun to address these issues and make improvements to the status quo.

This year’s legislative session has seen Mississippi undertake the task of civil asset forfeiture reform by making the process more open and transparent. With the passage of HB 812, government agencies are required to obtain a seizure warrant within 72 hours of a seizure. They must also follow-up with a request to proceed with the forfeiture within 30 days of the seizure. Furthermore, the law requires 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 that fails to comply with the new reporting requirements.

Last year, Maryland State Senator Michael Hough, a Republican, introduced Senate Bill 161 (SB 161). Some requirements of SB 161 included that on an annual basis each law enforcement agency report the date of the seizure, the type of property seized, the type of crime associated with the seizure, the outcome of the related criminal action, whether the property owner was represented by an attorney in the forfeiture case and the market value of the property seized.

Both MS HB 812 and MD SB 161 contain several provisions of the ALEC model Reporting of Seizure and Forfeiture Act. One feature the ALEC model policy, HB 812, and SB 161 share is a requirement that government agencies that have conducted either seizures or forfeitures be more open and transparent. Both Republicans and Democrats have supported these reforms, as evidenced by SB 161 passing out of the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee unanimously and HB 812 passing out of the Mississippi Senate unanimously.

These agency reporting requirements are absolutely crucial, as the public could become better informed about civil asset forfeiture and whether it is used properly or improperly. Ultimately, these reporting requirements allow for a more open and transparent civil asset forfeiture process, which best serves the public.


In Depth: Criminal Justice

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