New Study Gives Oklahoma and Texas Low Grades for Civil Asset Forfeiture Law
By: Kevin Batts ll
In a study published by Freedomworks.org, Oklahoma, and Texas received low marks for their Civil Asset Forfeiture laws. Texas and Oklahoma each received a D while Oklahoma received a “D-“. The authors of the study graded the states using three basic questions.
- What is the standard of proof the government must meet to forfeit a person’s property?
- Who has the burden to prove innocence or mistake—the government or the property owner?
- What percentage of forfeiture funds are retained by law enforcement?
Photos Courtesy of the Freedom Works study featured below
In a story published just last month in the OkieBlaze.com titled, “It is Time to Fix Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws in Oklahoma”, I made the case for reform in the state of Oklahoma. Opponents of CAF laws in Oklahoma have been rallying behind SB 838. This new study only compounds the urgency needed to restore liberty to the citizens of Oklahoma and Texas.
What is Civil Asset Forfeiture?
Civil Asset Forfeiture or CAF laws are a tool for law enforcement, federal and state, to seize property that they say has been procured during criminal activity. The property owner need not be under indictment or under arrest for forfeiture to take place. After the seizure, it is up to the property owner to prove they aren’t engaged in criminal activity. This procedure has been used to seize cash, bank accounts, homes, vehicles, land, and other valuables without a person being charged with a crime. CAF laws were expanded during the “war on drugs” policies of the eighties and they flourished during the “tough on crime” days of the nineties. They also exploded after the tightened security age of the post 9-11 era. The “Asset Forfeiture Reform Act” was passed to address these laws to no avail. Lawmakers trumpet this kind of laws as a tool in their arsenal in the war on terrorism. Civil liberty groups on both sides of the isle have been decrying the outright unconstitutionality of these laws.
The study claims that revenue from Civil Asset Forfeiture across the nation has grown from $95 million in 1986 to $1 billion in 2008. They are calling for new laws at the state level that encompass four specific principles.
1. An individual should actually be convicted of a crime before the government can seize any property.
2. Reforms should address due process concerns in two ways. First, the burden of proof that the property was used in connection with a crime should fall on the government. Second, the standard of proof should be beyond a reasonable doubt or clear and convincing.
3. Proceeds from seized property should be placed in neutral accounts, such as a state’s general fund, not the police budget. This would adjust the incentives driving the use of this practice.
4. Reforms should prohibit state and local law enforcement from participating in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program as a way of bypassing state reforms.