The state public defender is advocating that forfeited funds should go to the state, not individual law enforcement agencies.
Andre de Gruy, who is a member of the Asset Forfeiture Task Force created by the Legislature, has submitted his own recommendations for reforming state laws governing asset forfeiture.
De Gruy is proposing a “Criminal Justice Enhancement Fund” administered by the Department of Public Safety be established to receive appropriations from the Legislature of proceeds from all forfeitures.
He said a committee consisting of representatives of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, Mississippi Sheriffs Association, Mississippi Police Chiefs Association, Mississippi Prosecutors Association, attorney general’s office; Supervisors Association and the Office of the State Public Defender should review and approve grants under the program. And no less than 80 percent of grants should go to local and/or state law enforcement agencies. No more than 20 percent should be divided evenly between prosecution and defense services.
The task force chairman, state Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, said its work was basically done and bullet points have been laid out that will be used to draft legislation.
Those points include:
- A website maintained by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics to list and track civil assets forfeitures.
- That a civil seizure warrant be obtained for each seizure within 72 hours, excluding weekends, from a county or circuit judge in that jurisdiction.
- And that all forfeiture cases be prosecuted by MBN or the district attorney for the area where property was seized.
De Gruy said he supports Baker’s proposals for more oversight and transparency of all forfeitures, but he doesn’t think Baker’s proposals go far enough.
“Regardless of whether or not there is sufficient evidence of abuse in the current system, there is no public policy justification for maintaining the ‘eat what you kill’ scheme,” de Gruy said. “The justification of forfeiture is to remove the financial incentives and cripple major criminal operations. Administrative forfeiture does not address these concerns and results in less due process for offenders and innocent owners in low-level crimes that should not be subject to forfeiture at all.”
The aim of forfeiture laws is to seize assets derived from criminal activity. However, under current Mississippi law, property — including cash — can be seized based on mere suspicion of criminal activity, leading to forfeiture even if a person hasn’t been convicted of a crime.
“Police officers should have bulletproof vests because they need them, not because they have seized enough merchantable weapons to purchase them,” de Gruy said. “Victims of human trafficking should receive government services and the AG should be able to operate the coordination of services program because of need, not because enough funds were forfeited.”