Politics

Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Gains New Steam In Oklahoma

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Casey Harper Contributor

Civil asset forfeiture reform is gaining steam in Oklahoma with a new bill getting attention after reports of outrageous forfeiture abuses.

Civil asset forfeiture is a practice where law enforcement can seize property and keep it even if they don’t convict or even charge someone with a crime. Then, that person must go through the bureaucratic, and often unsuccessful process to get the property–whether it’s a vehicle, cash or a home–back from the police.

People often don’t get their property back because they have to prove their property is innocent, instead of having the burden of proof on the government, which can be difficult. Many times, people do not try to get their property back because the cost of hiring a lawyer is more than the property is worth. Advocates for reforms say police know this and take advantage of seizing smaller sums.

Republican Oklahoma state Sen. Kyle Loveless introduced a civil asset forfeiture reform bill in May that was soon followed by news from Oklahoma Watch that forfeited funds in the state were being abused.

In one case, a prosecutor had used the funds to pay off his student loans and was living rent-free in a home that had been forfeited.

Loveless said he only began researching the practice earlier this year.

“The more I heard about it, it made me more and more mad,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “To me this is a perfect example of government getting too big.”

Loveless introduced Senate Bill 838 in May, but Oklahoma’s sessions only last from February to May so the bill will have to wait until next year. In the fall there will be an interim study on the bill, which allows experts and representatives to share on the issue in a forum.

The bill would require a criminal conviction before property or funds could be forfeited. Police can still seize property they deem suspicious, but if someone is not convicted of a crime they can get their property back.

The bill also would address an incentive problem. Police in Oklahoma are allowed to keep the money they seize as well as the proceeds from selling seized assets.

Advocates for reform say this creates a perverse incentive for police to wrongly take property. Loveless’ bill would address this problem by having all forfeited funds go directly to the state’s general fund.

Loveless said law enforcement has been very critical of the bill. They say it will prevent them from taking drug money off the streets.

“I immediately got reaction from law enforcement saying it was terrible…one sheriff basically saying I was in the pocket of the drug lords,” Loveless told TheDCNF.

But Loveless based the legislation on New Mexico’s bill, which is the gold standard for reform bills. He told TheDCNF that if New Mexico–a border states that knows a lot about drug interdiction and has a former prosecutor as a governor who signed the bill–can get behind the bill then Oklahoma should too.

It’s worth noting that the bill would still allow police to seize property. It would just make it much easier for innocent people to get their property back.

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Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.