Mississippi Forfeiture Law

Mississippi Forfeiture Law
(*Submitted by Coxwell & Associate’s receptionist Linzy Rayfield)

Our criminal practice includes a number of felony drug cases – defendants charged with possession, possession with intent, or sale of a controlled substance. Often these cases come with an added twist. A forfeiture proceeding. Mississippi law allows a wide variety of property to be seized, and potentially forfeited, when it is alleged to be connected with a violation of controlled substances laws. To effect a forfeiture the State must essentially prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that an item of property was “used” or “intended to be used” in violation of the law. Some items of property subject to forfeiture are intuitive – drugs, drug containers, paraphernalia and items used to manufacture drugs are all routinely forfeited. However, some items are more difficult to understand. For example – vehicles, money, books and real estate. The Clarion Ledger recently published an article describing the forfeiture successes of the Hattiesburg Police Department. An excerpt:

The Hattiesburg Police Department has picked up about $1.4 million in forfeiture money over the past several years.
Documents show the department used the money for new vehicles and other equipment, along with training materials and machinery tools…
The department received the most forfeiture revenue in the 2007 fiscal year – $473,625.
In 2006, HPD saw $386,626 in forfeiture funds, preceded by $162,716 in 2005 and $237,852 in 2004.
Revenue decreased during the 2008 fiscal year to $120,759.
For the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, the department has received $7,890, according to the most recent numbers.
“These funds don’t replace our agency’s normal budget (but) may be used for any law enforcement purpose,” Misenhelter said.
The funds are a tremendous help, especially with the recent state budget cuts, said Hattiesburg City Council President Kim Bradley.

The policy of forfeiture raises a number of thorny issues. One of the biggest surrounds the inherent conflict that arises when forfeited property directly benefits the officers making the seizure. The substantial property and funds seized by law enforcement in many instances are used to buy equipment for those very officers. And those nice cars you see being driven by police, the Camaros and Escalades, forfeited property. Certainly then it is not in the best interest of law enforcement to admit that any particular seizure was errant, especially during this difficult economic climate. That much is made clear by the Hattiesburg City Council President’s quote above. Further, the law itself encourages prosecutorial overreach by incorporating the “intended to be used” language. Almost any scenario involving a vehicle or cash can easily lend itself to a State argument that the property was “intended to be used” in violation of the law.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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