Revealing that which is concealed. Learning about anything that resembles real freedom. A journey of self-discovery shared with the world.
Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them - Ephesians 5-11
Join me and let's follow that high road...
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Mississippi became the latest state to tighten its civil forfeiture laws when Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill on Monday that will require warrants for police to seize property.
Mississippi became the latest state to tighten its civil forfeiture laws when Gov. Phil Bryant signed a
bill on Monday that will require warrants for police to seize property.
Through civil forfeiture, law enforcement agencies do not need to file
criminal charges, or even secure a criminal conviction, to permanently
confiscate cash, cars and other forms of personal property.
Under the newly signed bill, HB 812, whenever
an agency seizes property, it must obtain a seizure warrant from a
circuit or county court within three business days of the seizure.
Agencies that do not procure a warrant with that timeframe cannot
forfeit the property and must return it to its owner. In addition,
agencies now will have to request prosecutors file for forfeiture within
30 days of a seizure.
importantly, HB 812 implements new transparency requirements to track
seizure and forfeiture activity. For the first time, Mississippi
agencies will now have to record a description of the seized property,
its estimated value, its final deposition, as well as if anyone
attempted to contest the forfeiture. Those records will then be uploaded
to a public, searchable website, which will be created and maintained
by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. Agencies that do not comply with
the new reporting requirements will not receive state or federal
812 will hopefully inform the public about how often law enforcement
seizes and forfeits property,” Lee McGrath, Senior Legislative Counsel
at the Institute for Justice (IJ) said in a statement.
important, the bill will produce data on which state legislators may
rely to make additional reforms to a civil process that has come under
widespread criticism, including from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence
Thomas,” McGrath added.
Previous investigations paint a worrying picture. An extensive report by The Washington Post into
a federal forfeiture program known as equitable sharing found that
Mississippi law enforcement conducted nearly 400 cash seizures “without
warrants or indictments.” Through that same federal program, Mississippi
police and prosecutors collected $47 million in forfeiture revenue from
the U.S. Department of Justice, according to a report by the Institute for Justice.
In January, Reason magazine
uncovered “strange and petty seizures by police” in Mississippi,
including cases where law enforcement confiscated car batteries, a comic
book collection, garden hoses, a horse saddle, and even had a white
couch forfeited to a sheriff’s office. (“The whereabouts of the couch
remain unknown.”) Their investigation also revealed that the Mississippi
Bureau of Narcotics had seized almost $4 million in cash, just in
2015, with the median seizure just under $13,000.
Later that month, Mississippi received failing grades from
IJ for its utter lack of transparency and accountability. Yet the new
law does not require transparency for how police and prosecutors spend
failure to account for spending from forfeiture funds is particularly
troubling,” said Jennifer McDonald, a IJ research analyst. “With
forfeiture, law enforcement agencies can keep some or all of the
proceeds from the property they take. This enables them to generate and
spend funds outside the normal appropriations process, which undermines
the legislature’s power of the purse. At a bare minimum, agencies should
have to publicly report how they spend forfeiture proceeds.”
Most infamously, police in Richland (which has barely 7,000 residents) funded a
“$4.1 million police station, a top-level training center and a fleet
of black-and-white Dodge Charger police cars” entirely through civil
Reforming civil forfeiture was remarkably popular, both with citizens and legislators. A poll last
year found 88 percent of registered voters oppose forfeiting property
without a criminal conviction. In the legislature, HB 812 was approved
by wide margins, passing the House of Representatives by 118 to 3 and
the state Senate unanimously. Mississippi is now the third state this
year and the 19th state since 2014 to have passed civil forfeiture reform.