A look inside the world of civil asset forfeiture

By Steve Wilson
January 16, 2019

Mississippi’s civil asset forfeiture database gives citizens a window into the world of forfeiture.

The Mississippi Center for Public Policy is performing an analysis of the data for the first 18 months the database law has been in effect and the biggest takeaways from it are the myriad unknowns.

First, here is what can be confirmed using only the database. The value of the 315 seizures added up to $2,314,648.24 or $7,490 per seizure.

Removing a large outlier forfeiture — the bust of vape shops in Rankin County for selling synthetic cannabinoids also known as spice by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics that led to a more than $600,000 in forfeitures — and the average forfeiture value shrinks to $5,422.

Only three seizures were of $100,000 or more and three more had a value of at least $60,000. Only 25.1 percent of all forfeitures occurred on the state’s two primary drug corridors: Interstates 10 and 20.

As for the unknowns, there are plenty since the law requires only law enforcement agencies to list the description and value of the item seized, a copy of the notice to intent to forfeit, any petitions by property owners to contest the forfeiture and any judge’s order that would include those that cover final disposition of the seized property.

There are no requirements that law enforcement agencies list the type of drug that was involved with the seizure, the circumstances of the seizure or whether charges were filed in connection with the seizure.

Of the 315 forfeitures listed in the database up to December 31, only 137 listed the drug that led to the forfeiture. On the boilerplate notice of intent for forfeit used by many agencies such as the MBN, there is a blank line for listing what drug was involved. Most of the time, it was left blank.

Also, only 91 out of the 315 listed the circumstances that led to the forfeiture, such as a traffic stop or an outstanding felony warrant.

Some law enforcement agencies went above and beyond when it came to reporting requirements to maximize transparency.

The North Mississippi Narcotics Unit — which pools the resources of law enforcement agencies from five counties in the northern part of the state — includes the incident reports in all of its forfeiture documentation. From these, a reader can glean the circumstances of the seizure, the amount of contraband involved and the charges that were filed in connection with the seizure.

There were other law enforcement agencies who had the same laudable level of commitment to transparency: the police departments of Corinth, Prentiss, Byram, Kosciusko and Eupora and the sheriffs’ departments of Pearl River, Alcorn, DeSoto and Madison counties.

All included the incident reports in their forfeiture paperwork.

What law enforcement agencies are seizing is also interesting. Cash seizures represented 47.1 percent of all forfeitures. In two instances, they seized as little as $50.

There were 54 vehicles (average value of $4,974) and this represented 17.1 percent of all seizures.

As for weapons, law enforcement officers seized 63 rifles, 53 pistols and 12 shotguns. There were also 16 cell phones seized, with the vast majority being iPhones.

Last year, the Mississippi Legislature quietly allowed the law that authorized administrative forfeiture to expire. This type allowed law enforcement agencies to seize property with a value less than $20,000 and not even have to file paperwork with a court explaining the basis for the seizure.

There were 47 administrative forfeitures listed in the database, some of which came after the law that authorized them expired on July 1. The average administrative forfeiture was $6,038 and only 12 of the 47 was for $4,000 or more.

There have been some large busts, but most of the time when it comes to civil forfeiture in Mississippi that is not the case.


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