Civil forfeiture cases in Mississippi were up in 2019, but the average dollar value of each forfeiture was down.
There were 353 seizures in 2019, according to an analysis of records by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. That is up from 315 in 2018. The average value in 2019 was $6,073.63, down from last year’s average of $8,708.37.
One reason was the lack of large busts. Only one seizure, $100,715 on April 17 by the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department, was more than $75,000.
In 2018, there were six seizures of more than $100,000, with the biggest being a bust of vape shops by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics that netted $644,421.
Only three seizures were $60,000 or more in 2019 after such busts in 2018. The majority of the seizures, 177 were $10,000 or less. In 2018, there were 224 seizures of that amount in the database.
Breaking down the numbers, 118 forfeitures were $2,500 or less in 2019, down from 2018, when 158 met that threshold. Going even lower, 21 were for $500 or less in 2019. That’s down from 2018, when 54 were $500 or less.
As for the property seized, the majority was currency (186), with the average seizure amounting to $5,422. Also seized were 86 weapons (average value of $363.91) and 41 vehicles (average value of $5,091).
Among the unusual items seized included an Xbox One video game console, 16 televisions, an auger (a drilling device), two watches, an Ozark Trail cooler, and 30 ounces of silver bullion bars.
The way the system works is law enforcement officers can seize property if they believe it is connected with a crime. Since the property’s fate is adjudicated in civil rather than criminal court, there is a lower burden of proof for the prosecution.
One part of the law that surprises those unaware is that a property owner doesn’t have to be charged with a crime for his property to be forfeited.
For the property owner to prevent their property being forfeited to law enforcement, which can use 80 percent of the proceeds to bolster their budgets, they must file a lawsuit. That happens precious little, as only 39 property owners contested the forfeiture in court (11.04 percent) in 2019.
In 2018, 30 property owners filed suit to recover their property, or 9.52 percent.