Bill to reinstate administrative forfeitures sparking debate

Source: Hinds Co. SO
Source: Hinds Co. SO
Updated: Jan. 29, 2019 at 9:08 PM CST
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JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Supporters call administrative forfeiture a tool in the fight against drug crimes, but some opponents say it’s theft by the cops. Cops seizing property is allowed as part of something called asset forfeiture.

Administrative forfeiture is for property valued at less than $20,000. Law enforcement says it’s a needed tool.

“Don’t monkey with the facts," said Commissioner of Public Safety Marshall Fisher. "The facts are this. Every one of these is linked to a violation of the controlled substance act. That is a myth.”

It’s nothing new. It’s been on the books in Mississippi since 1988. But the law expired last July. Now, lawmakers are trying to get it back on the books. Without it, agencies have to go through full judicial proceedings, even if the property owner doesn’t contest it. Still, Rep. Mark Baker says agencies have to provide a notice and give 30 days for the owner to contest.

“You’re required to get a 72 hour seizure warrant after you take something," said Rep. Mark Baker. "After you seize something, you’re required to get a seizure warrant from an impartial magistrate.”

But there’s push back. The Mississippi Center for Public Policy says it knows the asset forfeitures will happen. But they’d rather see the administrative type stay off the books.

“Having enough due process that a property owner, there could be a mistake," said Mississippi Justice Institute Director Aaron Rice. "Somebody could think that some property is probably connected to drug crime, have probable cause to seize it, but in fact it’s not connected to drug crimes. This is just making sure that someone has an opportunity, a meaningful opportunity to ensure that a court looks at that and ensures that it is, in fact, connected to a drug crime.”

“What we’re doing is we’re targeting people that are selling drugs on the street, plain and simple,” added Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy.

“There has to be a connection to a violation of the controlled substances law," noted Baker. "It’s not just a willy-nilly thing.”

To read the bill that would reinstate administrative forfeitures, click HERE.

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