Conservative Index Add
pagetitle

Saturday, February 17th, 2018Last Update: Sunday, February 4th, 2018 06:56:13 PM

Civil Asset Forfeiture and Oklahoma's State Constitution

By: Steve Byas

It is remarkable how when one challenges the practice of government agents taking private property, without conviction of any crime, under the practice known as “civil asset forfeiture” (CAF), the usual response from its defenders is that it is “needed” in the war on drugs.

While CAF is used not just to combat the drug trade, but also other alleged violations of law, its defenders certainly concentrate on its supposed positive role in fighting drug dealing. Sadly, support for CAF is almost universal among law enforcement officers like sheriffs and district attorneys, which makes me wonder if they value constitutional rights. Stories of innocent people, who have nothing whatsoever to do with drug-dealing, having their property seized by a law enforcement officer, do not seem to matter to them.

After all, they are fighting a “war” against drugs, and I suppose in a war, there is going to be “collateral damage.” It is unfortunate that innocent people sometimes lose their personal property, but the scourge of drugs is so severe that we must continue with CAF, seems to be their position.

Abuse of drugs is a bad deal, no doubt. But so is murder, robbery, and rape. And we still afford due process of law to persons merely accused of murder, robbery, and rape. Just because the crime is serious, does not mean that we take away someone’s life, liberty or property without due process of law. Surely, if police did not have to worry about due process of law, search warrants, and the like, they could solve more crimes by invading private homes at random.

But do we want to live in that kind of a country?

I know that I do not. Neither did the Founding Fathers, as we can see from the U.S. Bill of Rights, a series of amendments primarily designed to protect the states and individual Americans from the power of the federal government.

The Founding Fathers of Oklahoma also believed in constitutionally-protected life, liberty and property.

For example, in Section II, Article 7 of Oklahoma’s state Constitution, adopted in 1907, it clearly states, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” That would seem to forbid CAF, without conviction, in Oklahoma.

Then there is Section II, Article 9, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed [emphasis added].” This would also seem to prohibit CAF without conviction. I have read of one case (not in Oklahoma) in which an entire hotel was seized because a drug deal had taken place in one room. That seems to be the very definition of an “excessive fine.” Of course, governments violate this principle all the time – witness the threats of one million dollar a day fines and such until a person gives in to this or that edict by government – that is an “excessive fine.” Thankfully, not only does the federal Constitution prohibit excessive fines, the men who wrote our state Constitution also prohibited it.

Finally, I would draw your attention to Section II, Article 19 of the state Constitution, which reads, “The right of trial by jury shall be and remain inviolate ... in criminal cases wherein punishment for the offense charged is by fine only, not exceeding one thousand five hundred dollars.”

Taking someone’s car or house, before any conviction and without a jury trial, is clearly a violation of this part of the Oklahoma Constitution, as well. Presently, under the way CAF is used in this state, a law enforcement officer can seize property upon his own suspicion, then the burden of proof shifts to the accused. Instead of a jury finding a person guilty of a crime and the property then being forfeited, under CAF, the property is seized and the person who has had that property seized must then prove that the property was not used in the commission of a crime.

Proving a negative is often impossible, but that is what a person is expected to do under CAF.

I would like to address this directly to our state legislators. You took an oath to this state Constitution, not to your local sheriff or local district attorney. You may not like what drugs can do to destroy lives – I don’t, either. I also don’t like what murder, robbery, and rape can do to destroy innocent lives, and we do not cast aside constitutional protections in those cases.

If you are not going to do something to make CAF work within the clear wording of the Constitution, will you please tell me how taking someone’s property, without conviction, follows that clear wording of the Constitution?

If you cannot do that, and you continue to support CAF, then you lied when you took that oath of office.

Steve Byas is editor of the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper. He may be contacted at: byassteve@yahoo.com

About Steve Byas

Steve Byas is editor of the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper. He may be contacted at: byassteve@yahoo.com

Other Articles By Steve Byas

End Does Not Justify the Means

I was disappointed when I saw some folks that I consider conservatives folks who believe in the...

Our Michelle Obama Legislature

When we started the Oklahoma Conservative Index in 1979, we had about 20 Republicans in the state...

Cole, Inhofe, Lankford, Russell, Wrong on Syria

It was quite discouraging. Following the decision by President Trump to bomb a country Syria ...

Civil Asset Forfeiture and Oklahoma's State Constitution

It is remarkable how when one challenges the practice of government agents taking private property,...

Book Review: The Oklahomans

The Oklahomans: The Story of Oklahoma and Its PeopleVolume I: Ancient-Statehoodby John J. Dw...

Repeal of Blaine Amendment is a Band-Aid Approach

Quote: No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used,...

End Civil Asset Forfeiture in Oklahoma

William Cicco left his Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, home in March 2013, and was arrested by Bixby police...

Other Constitution Columnists

Richard Engle

Our Dirty Little (Not So) Secret
Did anyone actually think the Devil would go about with horns and a dark suit tempting people with...

John Michener

Conspiracy Can Aid or End Our Culture of Corruption
We all have that friend for whom everything is a conspiracy. Typically, this person will latch on to...

Rep. Jason Murphey

The Need to Transform the Legislative Process
It is the time of year when legislators file legislation for the next session. Every so often I feel...

Brandon Dutcher

The Higher Ed Defunding Thats Yet to Come?
Theres been much hand-wringing lately among some higher-education officials and journalists (to the...

Andrew K. Boyle

Step up Oklahoma is Awful Delightfully, Refreshingly Awful and Mr Madison says that is OK.
Honest men should be embarrassed by their systems government; we conservatives tend to forget this...

In The News

Constitution Staff

Efforts to Get Corporation Commission to Reopen Southwestern Bell Case Continue
On December 19, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 8-1 against a group of former Southwestern Bell...

Constitution Staff

Federal Tax Cuts Could Result in Utility Rate Cuts
Federal Tax Cuts Could Result in Utility Rate Cuts for CustomersThe estimated annual tax savings for...

Constitution Staff

Special Elections for Legislative Seats
Special Elections to fill vacancies in the Oklahoma Legislature continue, with seven of nine...

Constitution Staff

Gross Receipts to the State Treasury Shows Growth
State Treasurer Ken Miller announced on January 5 that Gross Receipts to the state Treasury surged...

Constitution Staff

Step Up Oklahoma Calls for Tax Increases
In what can only be described as a full-court press, much of the financial elite of Oklahoma has...

Constitution Columnists

Richard Engle

Our Dirty Little (Not So) Secret
Did anyone actually think the Devil would go about with horns and a dark suit tempting people with...

John Michener

Conspiracy Can Aid or End Our Culture of Corruption
We all have that friend for whom everything is a conspiracy. Typically, this person will latch on to...

Rep. Jason Murphey

The Need to Transform the Legislative Process
It is the time of year when legislators file legislation for the next session. Every so often I feel...

© 2001 - 2009 The Oklahoma Constitution, all rights reserved.
Contact the Oklahoma Constitution by calling 405-366-1125 or emailing okconsti@aol.com
Content Management System (CMS) provided by WebTeks CMS.