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Asset forfeiture proposal makes sense for public

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David Slane, an Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney.
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Law enforcement claims war on drugs will be lost

OKLAHOMA CITY – A proposal by state Sen. Kyle Loveless will make law enforcement officials more accountable and prevent innocent people from losing their personal property.

The bill, which will likely be considered next year in the Oklahoma Legislature, involves asset forfeiture laws and how police can confiscate money and property from a person without an arrest or conviction ever taking place.

Loveless’ idea is to require a conviction before police can seize a person’s property or money regardless of the circumstances. Currently, law enforcement officials are allowed to stop a vehicle and then take the car or truck and any property in it with only a hunch that a crime has been committed. No evidence is required, not even probable cause.

Sheriffs and police chiefs are throwing tantrums and screaming that this proposal, if approved, would kill their war on drugs. These law enforcement officials contend they stop few, if any, innocent people. That’s not entirely true. These same lawmen claim most of their stops result in confiscation of illegal drugs, so they’re doing the public a favor.

While there is some truth to their argument, there are cases when innocent people’s property has been seized without a justifiable reason. Getting the property or money back requires hiring an attorney and going to court, which can be costly. The current law favors the police and tramples on the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures of personal property.

Part of the problem now is that lawmen target certain types of vehicles, mostly out-of-state, and specific races driving certain types of cars. For instance, a black man driving a Cadillac with an out-of-state tag is more likely to be stopped than a white man driving a BMW with an Oklahoma tag. Hispanic men also have proven to be targets of law enforcement. That, my friends, is called racial profiling, which is wrong and should not be used by police and highway patrol troopers.

After Loveless introduced his bill recently, Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards exploded with rage, claiming his entire department would be decimated since he uses a large portion of seized cash to pay for public education programs and drug interdiction officers and vehicles. The Canadian County sheriff’s department and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol are notorious for stopping drivers who have committed no wrongdoing, but claim personal property must be seized for no apparent reason.

At least one senior official in Gov. Mary Fallin’s administration has vowed to fight Loveless’ proposal, but that would be a bad course of action if the governor and her staff truly believe in the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions.

This unconstitutional practice is wrong and should be stopped. The U.S. Constitution allows that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Under Oklahoma’s current asset forfeiture law, a person must prove their seized property was not used in the commission of a crime. How do you prove a negative? It’s time to stop giving law enforcement a pass on this issue and require they prove that the property was used in a crime.

Let’s not trample the Constitution so law enforcement can line their pockets with extra cash and property without abiding by the Fourth Amendment.

David Slane is an Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney who has practiced law for more than 20 years.

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