Mississippi Law Enforcement Performed $200,000 Worth Of Illegal Forfeitures Because It 'Didn't Realize' Law Had Changed

from the ignorance-of-the-law-is-the-best-excuse dept

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, us lowly peons of the American justice system are told. The same does not apply to law enforcement, whose business it is to enforce laws. I mean, it’s right there in the name. And yet…

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.

“Didn’t notice.” Try using that excuse the next time you, I don’t know, hand someone a straw or… um… offer underweight ice cream to consumers. That’s the AP’s phrasing of the official excuse for law enforcement’s inexplicable inability to stay abreast of laws affecting their work.

Here’s what officials actually said, which uses more words, but doesn’t sound any better.

Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy said he didn’t know the law had expired until September, when a Rankin County prosecutor notified him.

“Honestly, we were unaware of the sunset provision,” he said. “We thought that had been fixed in the legislative session.”

Now, this could be a legitimate excuse. But not for a narcotics director who probably had plenty to say about the impending demise of the most profitable part of the state’s asset forfeiture program. He could not have been completely “unaware.” After all, here he is announcing the roll out of a website listing state forfeiture actions as mandated by the same law Dowdy now claims he didn’t know much about.

It might be a legitimate excuse for a federal official who may not know the legislature included a sunset provision that gave legislators a chance to kill the passed law before it went into effect. Some efforts were mounted to roll back the reforms, but they both died without moving forward.

Because law enforcement can’t follow the law, lots of people will be getting their stuff back. The Tampa Bay Times article says the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics is offering to return $42,000 worth of property it illegally seized — a phrase that makes its effort sound far more magnanimous than the reality: relinquishing stolen property.

But this screw up isn’t going to keep it from seizing what it can, no matter how petty the amount. The thirty-day window on seizures under $20,000 is still open on a few cases, so law enforcement is still moving ahead with a few small-ball forfeitures.

Dowdy said agencies that seized property could still sue, seeking a judicially-sanctioned forfeiture, if less than 30 days elapsed. In Harrison County, for example, officials filed suit to seize $939 from Danielle Laquay Smith on Sept. 26, exactly 30 days after seizure.

The new law requires all forfeitures to be handled in court. The old law only required that on seizures above $20,000. There’s more than $200,000 in illegal seizures on the books, and the potential return of $42,000-worth still leaves a lot unaccounted for. And much of that appears to be held by another person who can’t keep track of legislative developments despite his position as a government official.

In northern Mississippi, District Attorney John Champion said, “I wasn’t aware of that,” when asked about the change. Police agencies in his five-county district, particularly in DeSoto County, have the majority of questionable seizures listed statewide.

Officers are Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to perceived violations by citizens, but blissfully unaware of legal changes directly affecting their daily work. This is absurd. And it is the status quo. Prosecutors — who directly benefit from forfeitures — aren’t aware either, most likely because knowing the law would adversely affect a valuable revenue stream. This is inexcusable, but it’s also likely to go unpunished. The law is clear on the matter: negative effects of legislation shall be borne by the general public.

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Comments on “Mississippi Law Enforcement Performed $200,000 Worth Of Illegal Forfeitures Because It 'Didn't Realize' Law Had Changed”

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Killercool (profile) says:

Said it before, I'll say it again...

If they don’t need to know the laws they are enforcing, and can break the law as long as they do it in a new and innovative fashion, they shouldn’t be able to call themselves “law enforcement.”

They should have to tell people they “work in arresting, also evidence collection and creation.”

Chip says:

Re: Re: Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

Did I mention hwo Cmart I am? I am Smart! So “very” VERY Smart. That is why I “spend” All Day “every” DAY in a Internet “CComments Section” telling everyone how Smart I AM, which is a thing that Smart people definately “Do”!

Every Nation eats the Paint chips it Deserves!

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

Oh, I know. It just seems strange that they can claim to be "law enforcement" when they are "enforcing" laws that either:

a) got removed from the books, or
b) only ever existed in their heads.

And somehow they are getting to keep 75% of the literally illegal forfeitures. Not just "that should be against the law," actually against the law. And they’ve only had to give back some of it – maybe. They might not have to give back any of it!

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Someone keeps asking that question, even though the answer has been explained multiple times in the past – at least once, and I think at least twice, by me.

If I keep seeing that question about the same repeated comments, I’m going to start flagging the question itself as being trolling, just as the comment to which it is a response is.

jaack65 (profile) says:

**Miss. Seized Assets Database Doesnt Work**

I went to the Miss. Dept Of Pub Safety website and there is a spot to click to search the asset forfeiture database. But the button doesn’t work! The link to Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Seized Property Online Publications
takes you in a circle, to a page with a big blank box that says
Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Seized Property Online Publications and nothing else. All Seized Property links take you in circles back to the few web pages that make this site.
They seem to be going out of their way to prevent access to this database.

stderric (profile) says:

Re: **Miss. Seized Assets Database Doesnt Work**


…the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of this site, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of this site. (Boilerplate, but sad & funny nonetheless.)

Names appearing on this website are presumed innocent. (Their property, however, is presumed to be guilty as sin.)

jaack65 (profile) says:

Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director JOHN DOWDY

This guy JOHN DOWDY needs to be held to accounts by the Feds. but given the rule of lawlessness in the Washington Swamp, I see nothing good from the FBI. Cops can’t investigate cops. Never worked before and never will in the future. We need independent oversight of police that is out of control police. The state’s government laws have insulated police from even the egregious abuses of their power in murdering “suspects” on video. We can’t depend on police who are there to enrich themselves and not to protect the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director JOHN DOWDY

There can never be “independent oversight” because they too will become part of the system that preys on taxpayers. It will end up being a “token” agency and will only serve to protect police even more than they already are because this “oversight” committee will be brought into the fold to profit financially along with everyone else.The whole system is designed to rob the citizenry and protect each other.

jaack65 (profile) says:

Forfeitures Civil vs Criminal

Eliminate civil Forfeiture and only allow criminal Forfeiture. When a defendant is found guilty, only then can forfeiture a start. This may curtail the rampant legalized theft written into our laws when hysteria had taken over lawmakers and the public was fed lie upon lie to justify this theft and mass incarcerations. Civil forfeiture nearly always favors the police and an innocent will be legally be robbed blind!

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