Criminal Justice

Civil Asset Forfeiture a Hot Topic in the Criminal Justice Reform Task Force at ALEC Annual Meeting

On July 28 at the ALEC Annual Meeting, the Criminal Justice Reform Task Force brought together state legislators, members of the private sector and nonprofit organizations to discuss ideas and solutions that have worked in their respective states. Kyle Loveless, an Oklahoma State Senator and champion against civil asset forfeiture, spoke about the difficulties he has faced in his state to reform civil asset forfeiture laws and shared his ideas to stop the attack on private property rights.

Civil asset forfeiture is the legal process where the state obtains the title of property suspected to have been associated with a crime at the time of seizure. Civil asset forfeiture does not require the suspect to be charged with or convicted of a crime to allow for the transfer of title to the state. Oklahoma currently requires little transparency of law-enforcement agencies and necessitates a low burden of proof for forfeiture cases.

“[W]e’ve seen innocent people’s property being taken. And it is a tool that is being used by law-enforcement [and] it sometimes goes too far and I believe sometimes innocent people’s stuff gets taken up,” Senator Loveless said. He emphasized the principle of innocent until proven guilty, which is threatened when property can be taken without charging a suspect of a crime. “Oklahomans believe that you know you’re innocent ‘till proven guilty – whether it is yourself or your property.”

Sen. Loveless spoke on the topic of civil asset forfeiture along with Lee McGrath, Legislative Counsel and Managing Attorney of the Institute for Justice’s Minnesota Office.  McGrath, like Sen. Loveless, wants states to reform their civil asset forfeiture process. Both referenced State of Oklahoma v. $53,243.00 CASH, where a broken taillight resulted in the seizure of cash raised by a Christian band to serve international charities. The forfeiture case from Sen. Loveless’ home state gained national recognition and was featured in the Washington Post. This story is one illustration of civil asset forfeiture abuse.  In fact, a poll recently conducted shows that “one major reason the practice may still persist is that most Americans don’t know it’s happening … three-quarters of Americans [haven’t] even heard of the term civil asset forfeiture.”

Sen. Loveless plans to reintroduce The Personal Asset Protection Act on the floor of the Oklahoma Senate this term and further fight for this cause in his state. Following the actions of other states, Sen. Loveless’ bill would require a conviction before assets could be forfeited. The bill would also require more transparency from law enforcement agencies in the reporting of seizures and forfeitures.

In Depth: Criminal Justice

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