Asset Forfeiture

Another Poll Shows Citizens Overwhelmingly Oppose Police Seizing Property Without Convictions

Mississippi voters against civil asset forfeiture.

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Police stop
Credit: Arne9001 | Dreamstime.com

Mississippi this week provides yet another solid chunk of evidence that American citizens, once it has been properly explained, massively, overwhelmingly oppose civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement and prosecutors.

Last week I noted how people polled in Florida and Utah overwhelming opposed the idea that police should be able to seize and keep assets and property of people simply suspected of crimes but not convicted or in some cases even charged.

A new poll released yesterday by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy produces very similar numbers. They find 88 percent of the 625 registered Mississippi voters they polled oppose asset forfeiture. Mason-Dixon Polling & Research handled to poll. Here was the question they asked:

Mississippi allows law enforcement to seize a person's cash and property if they suspect the property has been used in criminal activity. Under these laws, however, the police can keep the property even if the owner is never charged or convicted of a crime. In general, do you support or oppose allowing police to seize and permanently take away property from people who have not been convicted of a crime?

One can argue that the wording of the question is naturally going to lead to a negative response, but one cannot argue that the question is inaccurate. This is how civil asset forfeiture plays out in the real world. Law enforcement can seize cash found in cars during stops, for example, claiming they suspect that the money was part of a drug trafficking operation, and even if they are unable to produce any evidence of the underlying crime, attempt to keep the money. Because it's a civil process as opposed to a criminal process (sometimes prosecutors literally accuse the property itself of involvement in a crime, not a human being), the owners of the cash or property are not guaranteed a right to a lawyer and either have to pay for one, try to navigate a byzantine court process, or sadly too often, give up and walk away.

The Mississippi poll is also notable that even when broken down demographically, support for civil asset forfeiture never gets past 10 percent. Whether you break it down by age, race, political affiliation, sex—it doesn't matter. A huge majority oppose civil asset forfeiture.

Mississippi's asset forfeiture regulations have been given a grade of C- by the liberty-focused property-rights-protecting legal team of the Institute for Justice. On the bad side, the evidential threshold to seize property is low and law enforcement agencies may keep up to 80 percent of what they seize (thus creating a massive incentive to take property whenever possible). On the plus side, the burden of proof is on the government that the property is connected to a crime, even under civil forfeiture. In many states, the citizen is obligated to prove that his property is innocent in order to get it back.

How much property is forfeiture to law enforcement in Mississippi each year? We don't know. Mississippi does not have any requirement that law enforcement track and publicly report their revenue from forfeiture. Lawmakers are hoping to at least add some transparency to Mississippi's asset forfeiture system with HB 1410. The bill would create a searchable website where police would be required to report the details of all their forfeiture so the public would have a better sense of what was happening, including whether the suspect in a seizure case was ever charged with a crime. Read the bill's text here

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  1. “They find 88 percent of the 625 registered Mississippi voters they polled oppose asset forfeiture” So it’s about 12% of the population that has a police officer or prosecutor in the household??

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  2. The NH legislature is working on a law that stops local PDs from keeping any seized assets, and instead puts it all into the state general fund.

    But of course, out stupid bitch cunt governor Hassan has said she will veto it.

    1. But Zeb, they NEED that money to fight the heroin epidemic

  3. If only peoples’ opinions of government policies mattered in the least.

    1. They do matter, in the least way possible.

  4. Because it’s a civil process as opposed to a criminal process

    Still no good explanation for how this somehow invalidates the 5th Amendment.

    1. Because on the high seas, no one can hear you scream about your rights.

  5. You know, I’ll agree that most people don’t want police seizing their stuff. I seriously doubt they give a single fuck about someone else’s stuff being seized.

    1. Are you saying you don’t give a fuck about other peoples’ stuff being seized?

      1. That’s right.

    2. Whatever their motivation, it’s good if people are opposed to it.

      1. Sure it’s good, but I’m thinking most people just play the odds. They don’t care about it because it’s one of those things that will never happen to them. I’m not sure what the “I never thought it would happen to me” critical mass is, but I just have a bad feeling that it’s still pretty far off.

        1. It’s not something people are voting based on, that’s true. But it does seem to work to gin up some temporary outrage.

    3. There are people who understand the “If government can seize their stuff then government can seize my stuff” equation.

      1. No doubt. But as I responded to Zeb, I think most people play the odds. I think that’s the reason behind the shut up and do what you’re told mentality.

  6. Mississippi does not have any requirement that law enforcement track and publicly report their revenue from forfeiture.

    They really should have a better system for this.

  7. Most people don’t know about this until it is too late. It’s not like it is well publicized.

  8. It’s amazing how closely libertarian leaning on a given topic tracks with having a basic understanding of the topic.

    1. It all swings back to normal once the people are told how they personally stand to benefit from the prescribed course of action.

      1. Or “I know a cop/prosecutor/soldier/social worker and s/he says that…”, like they’re selfless angels.

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  10. all government fines, forfeitures, and penalties should go directly to civilians.

  11. “Do you support the police having the power to seize property from suspected drug dealers, without formally charging them, and using the proceeds to fund law enforcement?”

    1. Try that phrasing, and see if you get 88% “no” votes.

    2. When you put it that way, it’s just common sense. Because drugs are bad, mmm’kay.

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  13. Why would they think otherwise?

    I would love to meet the person who says ‘yes’ in these polls.

    1. You’ll have to wait until they get off duty at the precinct.

  14. Cops in Florida can’t seize property or anything else until the person is convicted of a crime in court. Governor Scott signed it into law recently.

    1. 2017 Florida Headline

      Criminal Convictions Double in Florida 2016. What, oh what, is responsible for this crime wave?

  15. “…They find 88 percent of the 625 registered Mississippi voters they polled oppose asset forfeiture…”

    100% of Mississippi gov’ts don’t care.

  16. The Mississippi poll is also notable that even when broken down demographically, support for civil asset forfeiture never gets past 10 percent. Whether you break it down by age, race, political affiliation, sex?it doesn’t matter. A huge majority oppose civil asset forfeiture.

    Break it down by occupation – working for the government, working in the criminal “justice” system, working as a cop.

    I bet I can find a demographic to get that approval number over 50%

  17. Asset forfeiture is theft pure and simple. It is only because in this enslaved weak minded country that people still believe cops are good. I say if a cop or anyone else knows something is wrong and doesn’t do anything about it they are just as bad as the crook. The police forces have always had a percentage of crooked bigoted bullies within their ranks and the rest of the weak minded bastards within their ranks turn a blind eye so I say to hell with them all. There are no good cops.

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  23. Anywhere else this would be called stealing. And if people are ignorant of what goes on, blame it on the corporate news media which hardly bothers to tell us actual news.

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