Pretrial

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Overview

Civil asset forfeiture laws allow state agencies to seize property from individuals if they suspect it was used in the commission of a crime.

As opposed to criminal forfeiture, civil forfeiture allows for property to be forfeited whether or not the individual was actually convicted of a crime. In criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed a crime. Civil asset forfeiture allows for a person’s property to be taken based on suspicion, and the burden of proof is on the individual to prove their innocence. Forfeiture proceeds are often redirected to seizing agencies, creating an economic incentive for agencies to pursue forfeitures instead of solving crimes.

Civil asset forfeiture policies can distort policing priorities and undermine public trust in law enforcement. A better forfeiture regime would be based on criminal forfeiture, where a criminal conviction is required to forfeit an individual’s property. The six types of civil asset forfeiture reforms scored here are described below.

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Conviction Requirement

Is a criminal conviction required to forfeit property?

25 points

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Financial Incentives

Does forfeited property directly benefit the seizing agency?

25 points

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Exemptions

Does the state exempt small dollar amounts from forfeiture?

20 points

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Due Process

Does the state require a prompt post-seizure hearing to determine
whether the property is subject to forfeiture? Do Administrative Forfeitures reduce due process protections? Does the state place limits or prohibitions on federal adoptions?

20 points

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Transparency

Are forfeitures in the state publicly reported?

10 points

State Overview

Mississippi has passed a law mandating transparency in forfeitures, compiling all seizures in a statewide database published online. The state has also eliminated administrative forfeitures.

Property can be forfeited without a criminal conviction, based on a preponderance of the evidence. There are no exemptions for small dollar seizures and no limits on federal adoptions. A post-seizure hearing is not required, although seizing agencies must secure a seizure warrant from a judge. Seized property remains in the possession of the seizing department, establishing a direct monetary incentive for law enforcement to seize property.

Details

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Conviction Requirement

A criminal conviction is not required to forfeit property in Mississippi. After property is seized, district attorneys file a petition for forfeiture in the county where the seizure is made, and the forfeiture is handled as a civil matter.

0/25 points

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Due Process

Mississippi law does not require a prompt post-seizure hearing, but it does require that seizing agencies obtain a seizing warrant from a judge, who must determine whether probable cause exists to seize the property. The state has eliminated administrative forfeitures. Mississippi law does not prevent federal adoption of forfeiture proceedings, allowing seizing agencies to easily bypass safeguards by pursuing forfeitures in the federal system.

15/25 points

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Financial Incentives

Mississippi law allows the seizing agency to retain 80% of the proceeds of forfeited property, and requires the remainder to be deposited to the state general fund. If more than one agency was involved, then 80% is directed to the primary agency and 20% to the secondary agency. This creates a monetary incentive for agencies to pursue forfeitures.

The state could require that all funds be directed to the state to ensure that incentives are aligned correctly, and that law enforcement agencies are funded adequately based on their needs, not their ability to forfeit property.

5/20 points

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Exemptions

Mississippi does not exempt small dollar amounts from forfeiture, making it financially disadvantageous for property owners to exercise their constitutional rights.

0/20 points

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Transparency

Mississippi implemented a transparency provision in 2017, requiring all seizing agencies in the state to submit documentation to the state Bureau of Narcotics, who maintains an online database of seizures.

10/10 points

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Reported Information includes the following:

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The name of the law enforcement agency that seized the property

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A description of each item seized, including the approximate value of the property

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A copy of the notice of intent to forfeit or petition for forfeiture

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A copy of any petition to contest forfeiture

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If a forfeiture was obtained because no petition to contest forfeiture was timely filed, a copy of the written declaration of forfeiture

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If a forfeiture was obtained because no petition to contest forfeiture was timely filed, a copy of the written declaration of forfeiture

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A copy of any final judgment or dispositive order regarding the merits of the petition for forfeiture, if applicable

Sources

1. Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-177
2. Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-181
3. Miss. Code Ann. §41-29-153
4. Mississippi Forfeiture Database, https://www.forfeiture.ms.gov
5. Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-107.1