Sen. Kyle D. Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) joined with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma at the state Capitol on Thursday to release the results of a recent poll commissioned by OCPA and OKPolicy.
The poll, conducted by SoonerPoll, asked participants a series of questions relating to civil asset forfeiture and law enforcement. Eighty-one percent of respondents had a favorable view of law enforcement officers and 70 percent (69.9%) support legislation requiring a criminal conviction before the government can take ownership of personal property.
“I am pleased with the results of this poll, but I’m not surprised. Oklahomans have a clear understanding of the proper role of government; and forfeiting property without convicting a citizen of a crime does not fit into that role,” said Loveless. “Oklahomans support law enforcement, but they also support the ideals of our constitution. District Attorneys and the courts must protect citizen’s property rights equally with life and liberty—it’s the American way.”
Senate Bill 838 aims to reform the process by which the government forfeits property. Law enforcement may seize property with probable cause suspicion for evidentiary purposes. The property is then turned over to the district attorney who files a lawsuit against the property for its role in the suspected criminal activity. The new law will not affect the seizing of property, but will ensure there is a criminal conviction before the government takes ownership of the suspect property. Loveless has indicated a timeline will be included in the final legislation requiring criminal charges to be brought within a certain time or suspected property must be returned to its owner.
“We give our police and district attorneys a lot of power to do a hard job, but they are still human beings who make mistakes,” said David Blatt, executive director of Oklahoma Policy Institute. “That's why we need better safeguards on civil asset forfeiture to protect innocent Oklahomans and avoid creating bad incentives that can distort the important work of law enforcement.”
Groups from all political stripes are joining Loveless in a coalition that was highlighted during the press conference.
“This is a liberty issue,” said Oklahoma Second Amendment Association leadership in a recent press release. “This is a moral issue. It is wrong and immoral for a government to use its spear to force you to give up your property without having to prove you have done something wrong.”
The poll also revealed Oklahomans overwhelmingly see the current civil asset forfeiture process as a violation of due process and constitutional principles.
“The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is proud to stand today in support of Oklahomans’ rights to private property and due process,” said Trent England, vice president for strategic initiatives. “Arguments about government efficiency do not trump the Fourth or Fifth Amendments, just like they do not trump the First or Second Amendments. Today’s results from SoonerPoll should make us all proud, as they show once again that most Oklahomans are steadfast defenders of constitutional rights and individual freedom.”
Recent reports have shown more than half of cash forfeitures along Oklahoma’s Interstate 40 over the past five years did not have any accompanying criminal conviction.
“The problems inherent in taking people’s property regardless of whether they are found guilty of any crime are both easily understood and easily solved, and an overwhelming majority of Oklahomans now realize that we cannot continue to make funding for public safety dependent on the financial success of drug cartels,” said Brady Henderson, legal director, American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.
Loveless also announced the creation of a hotline for victims of civil asset forfeiture abuse to tell their story—that number is (866) 901-7559.