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Great, The Oklahoman Editorial Board is tackling the civil asset forfeiture debate…

3:18 PM EDT on September 10, 2015

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Earlier this week, The Oklahoman issued another eye rolling editorial. This time it had to do with civil asset forfeiture reform, which oddly enough, is one of the few issues where Oklahoma liberals and conservatives see eye to eye.

The current system we have, which is a big "Fuck You" to the concept of innocent until proven guilty, allows cops, sheriffs and other law enforcement officials to seize and keep cash, guns, drugs, and other assets found during traffic stops without having to press any charges or prove guilt. They just have to "assume" the assets were used in connection with a crime. They then get to use the assets to pay for things like military-grade vehicles, weapons or personal student loan debt.

Now, there is a process for people to get their property back, but the burden is on the owner to show they are innocent. And if the owner actually wins, they still don’t get reimbursed for their attorney fees that will likely run into the thousands of dollars.

State Senator Kyle Loveless has promised to pursue legislation in 2016 that would allow assets to be forfeited only after a conviction. He's doing this for a couple of reasons:

1.) If the government is going to take someone's personal property, the government should probably be able to prove the property was used it in connection with a crime.

2.) As a result of several investigations and studies, civil forfeiture laws have apparently been overused and abused by money-hungry Oklahoma law enforcement officials.

With the movement to reform the system growing and gaining momentum, The Oklahoman's mysterious editorial board responded with this call for everyone to calm down and quit relying on "hypothetical" situations...

Fewer hypotheticals needed in Oklahoma asset forfeiture debate

As we've said before, the ongoing debate over civil asset forfeiture is legitimate. But it needs to be driven by facts, not hypothetical scenarios or conjecture.

In Oklahoma and elsewhere, law enforcement officials can seize money and property they believe are linked to criminal activity, particularly drug trafficking.

Critics say this leads to abuses where money is seized from innocent citizens to pad the budgets of law enforcement. But police say asset forfeiture deprives drug traffickers of their profits even in situations where officers aren't otherwise able to advance prosecutions.

From a pragmatic standpoint, the question that concerns most Oklahomans is this: Does civil asset forfeiture primarily target criminals, or is it fueling routine harassment of law-abiding citizens?

Recent legislative hearings failed to resolve that issue. Critics imply abuses are widespread, if not routine. Yet they provide few specific cases involving real people. That's hard to ignore.

Oklahoma Watch identified one alleged victim, Broken Arrow native William Cicco. In 2013, Cicco was pulled over for driving under the influence (supposedly from taking prescription painkiller medicine). Cicco had $15,555 in cash with him. The money was seized; he was charged with transporting drug profits. Cicco was found guilty of drunken driving charges, but the drug proceeds charge was dismissed. He spent around $3,000 on an attorney during the process before regaining his cash.

In Creek County, Linda Goss said police seized firearms, a fishing boat and a truck during a drug raid at her family's property, even though no drugs were present and charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. She says deputies raided the wrong site because the wrong address was on the search warrant.

The Cicco case seems a clear outlier; the Goss family's claims are more disturbing. But random anecdotes don't constitute a pattern.

You know what? The mysterious Oklahoman Editorial Board has a point. Even though the process of civil forfeiture seems to undermine some of our most basic civil liberties, we can't deal with hypotheticals. And we need more than just a few random anecdotes to show a pattern. That's why I'd suggest they read this Nolan Clay article published in their own paper in 2013:

Prosecutors return $21,227 more to Interstate 40 travelers

A district attorney is returning funds in three more cases where his drug task force took money from travelers on Interstate 40.

Two of the three cases involved stops where money was seized, but no one was arrested. A total of $21,227 is being returned in the three cases.

“I was really, really very scared,” said Julius S. Crooks, 28, who is getting back $7,500 and a semi-automatic rifle.

He was stopped in January on the way home to California from visiting family in Alabama. He was not arrested.

District Attorney Jason Hicks agreed Thursday to return the funds in the three cases, dropping efforts to have the money forfeited to law enforcement use. He had alleged cash found in the stops was drug money.

Prosecutors earlier dropped criminal cases arising from other drug stops. They also returned nearly $17,000 and a vehicle seized in those stops.

Hicks is under fire for hiring a private company, Desert Snow LLC, to assist in his drug interdiction effort.

After hiring the Guthrie company in January, his task force seized more than $1 million in the stops, mostly along a 21-mile stretch of I-40 in Caddo County. Hicks agreed to pay the company 25 percent of all forfeited proceeds from stops involving its trainers.

Or perhaps the Oklahoman Editorial Board should check out this more recent article published in The Oklahoman back in August? It shows that maybe, just maybe, the horror stories of civil forfeiture gone wrong are more than just "hypothetical scenarios or conjecture."

ACLU review finds Oklahoma law enforcers seized $6.1 million in properties along I-40

Law enforcement officers in a dozen Oklahoma counties along Interstate 40 seized $6.1 million in civil forfeiture actions over a 5-year period, with nearly two-thirds of the money taken in cases where no criminal charges were filed.

That's according to an American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma review of court records for 12 of the 13 counties along the I-40 corridor.
The review, released Thursday, found 319 seizure cases from 2009 to 2014. Criminal charges were filed in 205 cases, and no charges were found in the remaining 114.

Missing from the analysis was Oklahoma County, the state's largest, as those records still are being reviewed. A more complete report is planned. Federal seizures were not included....

From the same article, here's what ACLU found for each county:

•Canadian: $2,733,956 seized; 44 total cases; 23 criminal charges filed.

•Caddo: $1,231,912 seized; 36 total cases; 20 criminal charges filed.

•Custer: $536,921 seized; 14 total cases; six criminal charges filed.

•Beckham: $676,327 seized; 52 total cases; 31 criminal charges filed.

•Washita: $800 seized; Two total cases; One criminal charge filed.

•Sequoyah: $280,973 seized; 12 total cases; Five criminal charges filed.

•McIntosh: $165,423 seized; 24 total cases; 16 criminal charges filed.

•Okmulgee: $87,553 seized; 10 total cases; Eight criminal charges filed.

•Okfuskee: $22,508 seized; Four total cases; One criminal charge filed.

•Seminole: $11,893 seized; Five total cases; Five criminal charges filed.

•Pottawatomie: $340,476 seized; 108 total cases; 82 criminal charges filed.

•Blaine: $14,553 seized; Eight total cases; seven criminal charges filed.

So, uhm, call me crazy, but it seems like the The Oklahoman has published some pretty heavy facts that go beyond random anecdotes and hypotheticals. It kind of makes me wonder if the the quality of The Oklahoman has dropped so far that it's own Editorial Board doesn't even read it anymore? Maybe they just spend their time scrolling through Richard Viralnovabuzzfeedhall's clickbait.

Actually, I bet they still read the paper. More than likely, there was a mix up or miscommunication and some editor forgot about the paper's political agenda and accidentally published hard hitting facts and figures. The last thing the paper wants to do is take a side in an issue that divides conservatives. I'm sure the person who did it will be dealt with soon. As we know, the opinions of The Oklahoman's Editorial Board takes precedent over reporting unbiased news.

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