The Mississippi Senate passed a bill unanimously Thursday that would reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture system by requiring law enforcement to report forfeitures and a new asset forfeiture warrant system.
Some of the bill’s provisions include:
- Guidelines for law enforcement agencies to report to the state the location of each forfeiture, any criminal prosecution actions taken on the property owners, the value of the property and its disposition.
- The construction and maintenance of a searchable website by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.
- A new warrant system that would require a county or circuit judge to issue a civil seizure warrant within 72 hours, excluding weekends and holidays. The law enforcement agency would have to tell the judge what was taken and why it was seized, and explain to the judge the probable cause to justify the seizure. If the judge didn’t issue a seizure warrant, the property would be returned.
- A requirement that the local district attorney or the MBN prosecute all forfeitures, which would eliminate outside counsel from being hired by law enforcement agencies.
Institute for Justice legislative counsel Lee McGrath said in a news release that H.B. 812 is an important first step for transparency in Mississippi’s civil asset forfeiture system. The Magnolia State received failing grades on an Institute for Justice report card for its lack of transparency.
“Today’s vote is a welcome first step to shining a light on civil forfeiture in Mississippi,” McGrath said. “H.B. 812 is intended to inform the public about how often law enforcement seizes and forfeits property.”
The process was started in last year’s session when Bryant signed into law H.B. 1410, which created the Civil Asset Forfeiture Task Force. The task force — which included representatives of law enforcement, the Attorney General’s office, prosecutors and others — met several times last year to discuss what would be in a possible bill.
Under current law, law enforcement agencies only need to connect property to a crime to seize it and use proceeds from it to supplement their budgets. Those whose property is seized have to prove in a civil court that their property was not involved with a crime.