BY: Katherine DeCoito
I live in the greatest nation on the planet. America is traditionally known for freedom and prosperity. Land of the free and home of the brave and all that, right?
So, naturally, when I began to read story after story of civil asset forfeiture, my initial reaction was disbelief. Surely, this doesn’t happen here in my country and if my country, then surely not my state. The police can’t just take your property and keep it, right?
Civil asset forfeiture gives our police the ability to confiscate personal property without ever charging or convicting you of a crime. The real kicker and potential for corruption comes from the fact that police departments stand to profit from these confiscations. Human nature, being flawed as it is, predictably fails at some point in situations where financial profit is involved. The inclination towards the lure of financial gain causes some police forces to make decisions based on that gain rather than the safety of the community.
For example, since drug money can be seized, a police force may set up busts for drug money coming out instead of drugs coming in. Many police forces proudly boast about their seized funds and goods. My issue with this subject has nothing to do with sympathy for actual criminals, but rather, the loss of freedom that is felt by all.
The notion that our property is guilty until proven innocent and can be taken without a warrant or any type of due process is egregious, at best. The police take your belongings, and whether you are guilty or not, it is now up to you to spend large sums of money to prove your innocence and go through the lengthy, and many times unsuccessful, process of getting back your personal property.
Mississippi is not immune to the potential for abuse as it received a D-plus rating on this topic from the Libertarian group, The Institute for Justice.
While these laws, like many others, started with good intentions, the flaws have been exposed and it is time for reform. We cannot allow such potential for corruption. Our freedoms should be protected and valued by all, and civil asset forfeiture is a gross violation of those freedoms.
While some states like New Mexico are now revisiting civil asset forfeiture and making changes, Mississippi seems to be waiting around to come in last, yet again. Let’s protect the freedom of Mississippians and alter our laws to do so, sooner rather than later.
Katherine DeCoito is a wife and mother of four, and was a candidate for State Senate in the 2015 GOP primary. She is an active member of the community and lifelong Gulf Coast resident. She and husband David are small business owners in Gulfport.