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Mississippi's civil asset forfeiture database allows citizens to keep tabs on seizures

UP: The Mississippi civil asset forfeiture database is now online.

Mississippi's civil asset forfeiture database is up and running.

The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics unveiled last week its searchable website that will detail every civil forfeiture by state and local law enforcement agencies.

Right now, there are only eight entries, all from the MBN. The items seized by the MBN include seven pistols, a rifle, a shotgun and $1,385 in cash.

The database will allow citizens to search by case document name or description, the law enforcement agency that seized the property or search within a specified date range. Having a database of this type will allow the public to find out how much civil asset forfeiture is occurring and what happens to those proceeds.

House Bill 812 was authored by state Rep. Mark Baker (R-Brandon) and signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant in March 2017. In addition to tasking the MBN with building and maintaining the forfeiture database, the law also mandates:

  • Guidelines for law enforcement agencies to report to MBN about the location of each forfeiture, any criminal prosecution of the property owners, the value of the property and its disposition.

  • 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 about the property seized and the conditions under which the seizure was conducted, and explain to the judge the probable cause to justify the seizure. If the judge doesn’t issue a seizure warrant, the property would be returned.

  • A requirement that the local district attorney or the MBN prosecute all forfeitures. This would eliminate outside counsel from being hired by law enforcement agencies, such as the Hinds County Sheriff's Department did in 2016 over a $1 million drug seizure.

Under current law, law enforcement agencies simply have to connect property to a crime to seize it, and can use proceeds from it to supplement their budgets. Those whose property is seized have to prove in a civil court their property was not involved with or the proceeds of a crime.

Law enforcement agencies can retain 80 percent of the proceeds from any seizure if only one agency was investigating and 100 percent if more than one agency was involved. The Institute for Justice's "Policing for Profit" report gives Mississippi laws a C-minus grade.

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