Mississippi law allows for seizure of private property – without a criminal conviction
A little-known provision in Mississippi law allows for state and local agencies to seize private property.
The process, referred to as civil asset forfeiture, is advertised as a way to deprive drug dealers and criminals of their ill-gotten gains, but the truth is deeper than that.
While it’s true that civil asset forfeiture allows for cash, cars, and guns connected with criminal activity to be forfeited to the state, the law is structured to allow for the seizure of all types of property – regardless of whether the owner was convicted of a crime.
In fact, Mississippi’s law allows for law enforcement agencies to take property from individuals who are never even charged with a crime. Once property is seized, it can be auctioned or sold, and the seizing agency retains the majority of the proceeds, creating a direct financial incentive for agencies to pursue asset forfeitures.
Mississippi’s laws regarding asset forfeiture open the door to abuse and undermind private property protections in the state. These provisions earned Mississippi a grade of D for asset forfeiture according to Grading Justice. Grading Justice rates the state’s progress on criminal justice issues and assigns Mississippi’s asset forfeiture policies a low score due to its lack of protection for property owners. The scorecard provides an overview of forfeiture policies in the Magnolia State and how they could be improved.
Mississippi’s laws regarding asset forfeiture were some of the worst in the country prior to reforms implemented 2017. Lawmakers implemented a transparency provision, requiring that all forfeiture be publicly reported in an online database. This reform also implemented a requirement that seizing agencies obtain a seizure warrant from a judge before proceeding with seizing property. These changes moved the state from a score of F to D. More work remains to be done to ensure that innocent property owners are protected.
While other states have required that individuals be convicted of a crime before property can be forfeited, Mississippi has no such protections. The law also doesn’t require a hearing following the sezire of property, and there are no exemptions on low-dollar amounts.
The state’s practice of allowing seizing agencies to retain a majority of the proceeds of seized property creates a perverse financial incentive for law enforcement. The primary focus of law enforcement should be public safety, not revenue generation. Agencies should be funded based on need, not their ability to forfeit property.
Mississippi has an opportunity to build on previous reforms and improve its Grading Justice score in this area by protecting property owners. Common-sense reforms would ensure that law enforcement has the ability to pursue criminals while preventing abuses that hurt innocent property owners.
Are you ready to help reform civil asset forfeiture in Mississippi? Add your name to the petition below.