Under Mississippi’s civil forfeiture laws, which earn a C- grade, the government just has to connect property to a crime by a preponderance of the evidence in order to forfeit it. However, the government bears the burden of disproving an innocent owner claim—an improvement over most states where owners must, in effect, prove their own innocence to win back seized property. Law enforcement agencies may retain 80 percent of forfeiture proceeds when only one agency investigated the case and a full 100 percent if more than one agency was involved, creating a troubling conflict of interest and a strong incentive to seize.
That conflict is on full display in Richland, Miss., where construction of a new $4.1 million law enforcement training facility was funded entirely by forfeiture proceeds garnered by police in Richland—a town of just 7,000 people. A sign in the building’s window boasts: “Richland Police Station tearfully donated by drug dealers.” The controversial facility illustrates the conflict of interest created when law enforcement can directly benefit from the proceeds of forfeiture. Such self-funding is especially worrisome in states like Mississippi where agencies are not required to track or publicly report forfeitures or expenditures from forfeiture funds, leaving the public and lawmakers in the dark.
|Standard of proof||
Preponderance of the evidence.
Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-179(2).
|Innocent owner burden||
Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-179(2); Galloway v. City of New Albany, 735 So. 2d 407, 411–12 (Miss. 1999); Curtis v. State, 642 So. 2d 381, 384–86 (Miss. 1994); 1994 Mercury Cougar v. Tishomingo Cnty., 970 So. 2d 744, 747–49 (Miss. Ct. App. 2007). But cf. Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-153(a)(4)(B), (a)(7)(A) (placing burden on owner, but statute has been interpreted in above cases to place burden on government).
80 percent if one law enforcement agency participated in the forfeiture; 100 percent otherwise.
Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-181(2).
Wing, N. (2015, May 19). Police in Mississippi town buy new station, cruisers with funds from aggressive civil forfeiture program. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/19/richland-mississippi-civil-asset-forfeiture_n_7312988.html.
No data available. Agencies are not required to track or report their forfeitures.
On equitable sharing, the Magnolia State places 20th in the nation. Between 2000 and 2013, Mississippi law enforcement agencies received an average of almost $3.4 million per calendar year in equitable sharing proceeds from the Department of Justice, totaling more than $47 million over that period. Ninety percent of those proceeds came through joint task forces and investigations, the type of equitable sharing generally exempt from new DOJ rules. Mississippi agencies also received almost $3 million in equitable sharing proceeds from the Treasury Department between 2000 and 2013, or approximately $208,000 per fiscal year.View Local Law Enforcement Data
|Average Per Year||$3,361,932||$207,571|
Sources: Institute for Justice analysis of DOJ forfeiture data obtained by FOIA; Treasury Forfeiture Fund Accountability Reports. Data include civil and criminal forfeitures. Because DOJ figures represent calendar years and Treasury figures cover fiscal years, they cannot be added.