Civil asset forfeiture is as much of a mouthful as it is a problem. If you’re unfamiliar with this tongue twister, allow me to explain. Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool that allows cops to seize any money or property they think might be involved in criminal activity. This law has been around since prohibition when it was used to bring down bootlegging syndicates. The reach and strength of civil asset forfeiture grew exponentially during the 80s with the advent of the war on drugs.
The most erroneous part of this law is that once the money is seized, the owner is responsible for proving the money or property is not involved with criminal activity. To rein in abuses of this tool, the US Justice Department recently announced they are suspending a small but important part of civil asset forfeiture.
Equitable-sharing allows police to prosecute asset forfeiture cases under federal law instead of state law. This is advantageous for police because federal forfeiture laws are more lenient than many state policies. This lets police keep up to 80 percent of assets they seize.
Suspending the equitable-sharing program will have a huge impact on the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Of all the state agencies that benefit from equitable-sharing the Highway Patrol gets the most money.
Law enforcement will continue to argue that civil asset forfeiture abuses are few and far between, but there have been multiple cases that prove abuses regularly happen. The fact is that since 9/11 police have conducted more than 61,000 seizures, taking more than $2.5 billion in cash alone from people who were never charged with a crime.
The validity of civil asset forfeiture was proved during prohibition, but today it’s simply out of control. The suspension of equitable-sharing is a good start and will hopefully deter senseless seizures, but we still have a long way to go. If police have used civil asset forfeiture as an excuse to take your money or property call Oklahoma City criminal defense lawyer Jacqui Ford. She has presented at several civil asset forfeiture reform hearings and has been a strong voice for the people.