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Civil asset forfeiture is hot-house for law enforcement corruption

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NORMAN, Okla. – If you’ve ever wondered why police departments so vehemently oppose the legalization of marijuana, you only have to follow the advice of Hal Holbrook’s incarnation of Deep Throat, and “follow the money.” You won’t have to follow the money all too far before you realize that marijuana prohibition is fueling a steady flow of money and assets to police departments across the country via the practice of civil asset forfeiture. 

This current ability of police to seize anything they deem suspicious has led to enormous profits on the part of law enforcement, leaving the robbed citizens scrambling to prove in court that what was taken was rightfully theirs, and not connected to a crime. An entire industry has sprung up in law enforcement circles dedicated to maximizing seized revenue. 

Asset forfeiture seminars are held across the country that teach members of law enforcement how to get the most out of their roadside shake-downs. Activist Post reported on such a seminar where the speakers postured as if they were marketing gurus who gave the officers tips on how best to argue in a court of law for the guilt of seized property, how to deal with those rare, annoying people who dare to assert their rights to the cops, how to get someone to “admit” to a crime, therefore provided the justification for a seizure even if no drugs are found, and basically how to wring every last dollar they can from their victim. 

There’s even a video in that article of the speaker, whose attitude toward asset forfeiture is so blatantly profit-motivated that it must have made those in attendance shift nervously in their seats. After all, they probably don’t want the true motivations behind asset forfeiture advertised that plainly. 

Here in Oklahoma, police are making the most of some of the most lax asset forfeiture laws in the nation, and unintentionally producing strange and outrageous headliners in the process. There’s the story of the $53,000 taken from a Christian band by Muskogee, Okla., sheriff’s deputies, after a drug dog, which are correct less than half of the time, “alerted” to their car, providing the excuse needed for a search. 

The police found $33,000 in ticket sales, $1,000 in cash donations for an orphanage in Thailand, $8,000 in cash from the band’s sales, a $9,000 gift from the family of a band member, and $2,000 in cash for the band’s road trip expenses. The police found absolutely no drugs, paraphernalia, or weapons in the vehicle. 

Nevertheless, they took the money anyway, citing “inconsistencies” in the band’s stories as to how they came about the money. Eh Wah, the driver, who has difficulty explaining himself clearly in English(he’s from Burma) was even taken in for questioning for several hours. 

They released Eh Wah around midnight, poorer by $53,000. The good news is that the money was finally returned, but not without causing severe distress on the part of the band members.

There are other colorful stories from the Sooner State: from the story of the assistant DA that used $5,000 in forfeiture funds to pay his student loans, the prosecutor who lived rent-free in a house seized through asset forfeiture, to the revelation that Oklahoma’s I-40 has been a goldmine for asset forfeiture activities, with the police never filing criminal charges in 65% of the cases. The informative website, NormanLeaks.org, has revealed that Norman police have seized more than $108,000 in assets in the first six months of 2016 alone.

A 2015 report by the Institute for Justice gave Oklahoma a D-minus rating on its civil asset forfeiture laws, some of the most lax in the nation, laws that cite no conviction required for a forfeiture, feeble protections for property owners whose property is seized, and a statute that allows for 100% of seized funds to go directly to law enforcement. Policing for profit. Simple.

Civil asset forfeiture is more like a sub-industry formed within the massive, lucrative, bureaucracy that has been formed by government and various private industries around the drug war itself. The mere existence of the drug war provides the incentive and the excuse for hundreds of billions of tax dollars to fund a bloated bureaucracy that provides thousands of unnecessary jobs. 

In a nutshell, the Drug War is a jobs program for the legion of state and federal minions that spy, rob, imprison, and generally make life much worse for every honestly-employed American citizen. Asset forfeiture is merely a symptom of the larger Drug War, and it will take ending the Drug War itself to permanently end asset forfeiture, as well as all the other abuses of power that also spring from prohibition. 

Asset forfeiture is a blatant, and very effective, corruption-generator. Until it’s recognized as such, and ended, more innocent people will suffer as they are shaken down in a scam that has no place in this, or any other, country.

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Shane Smith

Shane Smith is an accountant and freelance writer with a bachelor's degree in economics from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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