House Bill 1077, sponsored by Rep. Nick Bain, would give the Public Service Commission the authority to employ fraud and enforcement agents, who will have law enforcement powers to conduct civil asset forfeiture.
The new agents will investigate any alleged violations of the Mississippi Telephone Solicitation Act, Caller ID Anti-Spoofing Act, Automatic Dialing-Announcing Devices Act, Unsolicited Residential Telephonic Sales Calls Act and the rules, regulations, and general orders ofthe PSC.
But the powers of the new agents also include the ability to conduct civil asset forfeiture. This simply expands civil asset forfeiture in Mississippi at a time when the mood is to reform the process – rather than make it easier for the state to keep your seized property.
Civil asset forfeiture allows the government to take and keep property allegedly connected to crime – without ever convicting the owner of a crime. State and local law enforcement agencies can seize money, vehicles, and other property, sell that property, and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets.
The forfeited property does not even have to belong to the person suspected of criminal activity. While innocent owners may contest the forfeiture of their property, they must affirmatively prove that they did not have knowledge or give consent for their property to be used for illegal purposes. Proving a negative in a court of law can be quite difficult, and expensive.
Forfeiture cases are civil proceedings that lack many of the meaningful due process safeguards provided in criminal cases. There is a lower burden of proof, no presumption of innocence, no right to an attorney, and no preliminary hearing to ensure wrongfully seized property will be returned quickly.
MCPP has reviewed this legislation and finds that it violates our principles and therefore must be opposed.
Read HB 1077.
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