House Bill 1068, sponsored by Rep. Dana Criswell, would require a criminal conviction for property to be forfeited to the state in the case of violations of the state’s Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1974.

This law governs the management of endangered species, such as several species of sturgeon, black bears, gopher tortoises, indigo snakes and Mississippi sandhill cranes, among others.

The bill would also require that any proceeds from the sale of any forfeited property be put in the state’s Game and Fish Fund.

It would be the first change to the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws since the sunset of administrative forfeiture in 2018. Administrative forfeiture allowed law enforcement agencies to only have to go to civil court to earn title to seized property if the property owner filed a challenge.

Eighteen states require a criminal conviction (which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt) to forfeit property to government. North Carolina, New Mexico, and Nebraska have abolished civil forfeiture entirely.

In Mississippi, a law enforcement agency can seize property without an arrest if they can convince a judge that there is probable cause to believe that the property has been used in the commission of a crime or is the product of crime.

The property then goes through a civil procedure with a lower standard of proof than those in criminal courts. If the property owner doesn’t file paperwork with the court to contest the forfeiture, the court almost always rules in favor of the seizing agency. Then the agency receives 80 percent of the proceeds with the prosecuting attorney, either a local district attorney or the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, receiving 20 percent.

Going to a system with only criminal forfeiture ensures that both individual and property have the same due process rights and puts the burden on the proof on prosecutors to prove that property is involved with a crime.

MCPP has reviewed this legislation and finds that it is aligned with our principles and therefore should be supported. 

Read the bill here.

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