Mississippi Police Seized Property Without Legal Authority
By Jeff Amy
Mississippi police agencies have been seizing cash, guns and vehicles without legal authority for months after a state law changed and police didn’t notice.
An Associated Press review of a Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics database shows more than 60 civil asset forfeitures with nearly $200,000 in property taken by state and local agencies under a law that lapsed on June 30.
That law allowed police to take $20,000 or less in property associated with illegal drugs, regardless of whether someone was convicted criminally, unless an owner fought the seizure in court within 30 days. Police agencies keep 80 percent of the money, with 20 percent going to a district attorney or the Bureau of Narcotics.
Now, Mississippi agencies must sue in court and get a judge to approve seizures, as they already were required to do with larger amounts.
Civil liberty and property rights groups have long raised alarms nationally about the dangers of police seizing property without sufficient legal safeguards. Supporters of Mississippi’s change say the old administrative forfeiture law didn’t provide enough protection against questionable seizures.