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Monday, March 19th, 2018Last Update: Sunday, February 4th, 2018 06:56:13 PM

Dont Let the Bill of Rights Fade Away

By: Sen. Kyle Loveless

Samuel Adams said that our fundamental rights include "…first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly, to property-- together with the right to support and defend them…"

Many times, we only focus on protecting life and liberty; and forget about encroaching threats to our property rights. Because of this, we have gotten ourselves into the mess of civil asset forfeiture.

I recently visited the U.S. Archives in Washington, D.C., and while I stood in the Rotunda of the Archives looking at those consecrated words written many years ago, "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" and sadly the ink of the parchment is faded, but the words live on today as the day they were written. Remember, the power of government in our country still resides in "We the People."

Don't let the meaning of the words fade like the actual document.

The Heritage Foundation defines civil asset forfeiture as: "… a legal tool that allows law enforcement officials to seize property that they assert has been involved in certain criminal activity. In fact, the owner of the property doesn't even need to be guilty of a crime: Civil asset forfeiture proceedings charge the property itself with involvement in a crime. This means that police can seize your car, home, money, or valuables without ever having to charge you with a crime. There are many, many stories of innocent people being stripped of their money and property by law enforcement."

Essentially, property, and usually cash, can be seized during a traffic stop based solely on a mere suspicion that it was involved in or profit from criminal activity. Cash isn't the only property subject to seizure. Oklahoma law also allows for nearly any item that can be assumed guilty of involvement in a crime including cars, land, cell phones and even guns. I'm all for interrupting organized criminal activities and drug cartels, but I am not for seizing property without fair due process or a day in court. At the federal level, for 80% of property seized, there are no charges brought. I don't want to live in a country when the government can take property with no charges brought ever.

I believe in the fundamental right that all Americans should be secure in their life, liberty and property, so I introduced SB 838, the Personal Asset Protection Act. This legislation would fundamentally reform asset forfeiture to realign the process with its intended goal of stopping criminal activity-all while protecting property rights and individual liberty.

The four main objectives of SB 838 are to firstly, guarantee the owner and property are innocent until proven guilty. This foundational principle of our justice system is ignored by Oklahoma's current forfeiture laws. Secondly, this bill will require a conviction before property can be forfeited. How can a government take its citizens' property before they've been convicted of a crime? Thirdly, this much needed reform will raise the burden of proof to a higher threshold. The current law only requires a preponderance of the evidence, one of the lowest levels. SB 838 will raise that bar to clear and convincing; requiring the government to have more evidence than suspicion. Finally, SB 838 will remove the financial incentive law enforcement currently has to use forfeiture. Currently, proceeds from forfeiture can be used by the seizing agency. Allowing an agency to keep what it takes breeds a culture of want and need instead of a culture of enforcement.

Many in law enforcement will say this legislation will hurt their drug interdiction efforts. If that were the case then how are boarder states like Texas and New Mexico leading the way in civil asset forfeiture reform? Funding for government agencies should go through a normal budgeting process with checks and balances. Studies have shown where on interstates that have drug traffic coming on one side and cash being shipped on the other side, there are TEN times the traffic stops on the side with the cash. Why? Law enforcement can't sell or use the drugs, but they can keep the cash. A person's salary should never be determined by how much property they seize from innocent individuals.

Government should not be funded on the playground rule of finders keepers.

Daniel Webster is known for saying "When one man holds the purse and sword, that day liberty dies."

I am trying to reform a system that is long overdue some structure and a framework to prevent abuses of the system, if law enforcement has to go through constitutional hoops to take your life, or your liberty by putting you in jail, shouldn't the government have to do the same to seize your property?

This effort to reform our civil asset forfeiture laws is going to be a fight and I need your help. Please contact your representative and senator to encourage them to cosponsor this important legislation. Let's come together to create real reform that protects property rights, without harming law enforcement's ability to stop drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

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