April 11, 2016
For Interviews Call Forest Thigpen or Dr. Jameson Taylor: (601) 969-1300
New poll shows Mississippi voters overwhelmingly oppose civil forfeiture
JACKSON, MS - A new poll of registered Mississippi voters shows overwhelming opposition to current state laws that permit police to keep seized cash and property taken from a person not convicted of a crime. Known as "civil forfeiture," the practice has come under increased scrutiny by state and federal lawmakers around the country.
According to the poll, 88 percent of voters oppose civil forfeiture, including 89 percent of Republican voters. Every category of Mississippi voter identified in the poll -- by race, age, sex, political party and district -- is against police taking property from people not convicted of a crime. The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
"These poll results confirm that it is time for the Mississippi legislature to reform our civil forfeiture laws," said Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
"The Mississippi Constitution affirms that 'no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property except by due process of law,'" Thigpen said. "When forfeiture is limited to taking the property of convicted criminals, it can be a legitimate law enforcement tool. But that's not the case with civil forfeiture. This practice erodes fundamental private property and due process rights for Mississippians."
A bill (HB 1410) moving through the Mississippi legislature would, for the first time ever, require transparency for forfeitures. The bill takes its cue from other states that have recently enacted strong protections for innocent owners caught up in forfeiture proceedings.
"Because there's no reporting requirement in the law," Thigpen said, "we don't know why assets are being forfeited, we don't know the value of the property, we don't even know how often property owners are being charged with a crime. In states that require reporting," said Thigpen, "lawmakers are finding the value of the seized property is less than the cost to hire an attorney to get the property back."
HB 1410, as passed by the House, requires the creation of a public website that would include basic information from closed cases that entail the seizure of property and cash. The Senate version requires the creation of a task force to study the issue and recommend changes to the legislature for reforming the forfeiture system.
"Transparency in government is always a good thing," Thigpen said. "More transparency for civil forfeitures will help taxpayers understand how the system works and help limit potential abuse."