How Oklahoma Is Looking to Reform Police Seizures

Civil forfeiture is the legal tool that enables law enforcement authorities to seize cash and property, often on the mere suspicion that it was involved in, or the direct result of, illegal activity. Though it was originally ramped up in the 1980s to target the ill-gotten gains of drug kingpins and criminal organizations, today’s forfeiture laws are so broad that hundreds of crimes—from driving on a suspended license to making too many bank deposits—allow for property to be confiscated. In most states, including Oklahoma, the government does not need to charge, much less convict, the owner of a crime in order to forfeit his property. In fact, the burden is usually on the owner to effectively prove his own innocence if he wants to win back his cash, car, or home. Under Oklahoma law, the agency that seized the property gets to keep the proceeds generated by its forfeiture, giving law enforcement officials the ability to self-finance in a manner wholly separate from the normal political appropriations process.

Last week, State Senator Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, introduced the latest version of the Personal Asset Protection Act, a sweeping overhaul of Oklahoma’s civil asset forfeiture laws. Loveless’ comprehensive bill contains many provisions designed to rectify the iniquities of forfeiture law in his state. His 49-page proposal would: require a criminal conviction, raise the standard of proof, close the equitable sharing loophole, and transfer forfeiture proceeds to a “Forfeited Assets Distribution Revolving Fund.”

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