If you have not heard of the concept of “civil asset forfeiture,” you can consider yourself lucky that you haven’t had to suffer the ill effects of this highly questionable law enforcement practice. Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to take property from criminal suspects without filing criminal charges first, and while it is intended to be a device to fight organized crime and drug trafficking, Oklahoma law enforcement has used it to target the private property of many innocent civilians and used it to generate revenue. Now, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol has more power than ever to take the property of citizens without filing criminal charges through the introduction of Electronic Recovery and Access to Data (ERAD) scanners which can scan suspects’ prepaid cards and remove value from the cards on the spot.
How the ERAD Cards Work
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has purchased at least 16 scanners for use in taking funds from citizens they deem to be criminal suspects. The scanners can read prepaid debit cards (such as phone cards, gift cards, government benefit cards, or American Express prepaid cards), read the account balances, and then transfer any or all funds to the government, with the makers of the card receiving a 7.7% of all the funds taken from citizens.
In taking the funds from citizens, the police need only have probable cause that the funds were connected to criminal activity, but no criminal charges need be filed against the person. Even where no criminal charges are filed or where the person is found innocent, the government will often still keep the person’s property (including prepaid funds) unless the person can prove that the funds were not related to criminal activity.
Civil Asset Forfeiture in Oklahoma: A Dismal Record
National attention was given to Oklahoma’s use of civil asset forfeiture when Muskogee police seized $53,000 from a Christian rock band raising money for orphanages in February. The nonprofit Institute for Justice gives Oklahoma a D- grade for its use of civil asset forfeiture. A main reason for this dismal grade is that Oklahoma law requires that even innocent persons whose property has been taken have to prove that the property itself was not involved in any crime. While this may seem like an unconstitutional practice, the courts have held that while people are entitled to a presumption of innocence, their property is not entitled to that same presumption.
Based on these rulings, law enforcement have often used the practice of civil asset forfeiture to fund themselves at the expense of innocent citizens. In Oklahoma, law enforcement is allowed to use 100% of seized funds for their own salaries and other expense. Between 2000 and 2014, Oklahoma law enforcement seized nearly $100 million in property from people.
What Can Be Done to Recover Your Seized Property
Civil asset forfeiture in Oklahoma is not just limited to prepaid debit cards, but can include cash, vehicles, and any other property. The only difference now is that, through the incorporation of the ERAD scanners, law enforcement have a whole new way of seizing your property.
Recovering your seized property can be a difficult legal process, but working with an experienced Oklahoma criminal defense attorney can help. For assistance in all aspects of your criminal matter, schedule a consultation with Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney Patrick Quillian today.