OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla._The longtime practice of seizing money and property during drug stops may become more difficult under a new bill proposed by an Oklahoma state senator.
Prosecutors and law enforcement are fiercely opposed to the changes, and voiced their opposition Tuesday during a hearing at the state Capitol. Senator Kyle Loveless says the current system is ripe for abuse, and should be changed so innocent people won't lose their money or property. He wants to change the law so that a criminal conviction would be needed before the state could take your property. Right now, law enforcement only needs evidence that the money or property was gained through illegal activity.
It all comes on the heels of a report by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU reported between 2009 and 2014, 13 counties in Oklahoma had 319 seizure cases, but only 205 resulted in criminal charges. These numbers caused some to turn heads, but Jackson County Sheriff Roger Levick says this is not a flawed process.
Sheriff Levick presented a few statistics about preventing drug trades, including how a $100,000 seizure would stop the process of making 500 pounds of meth. He says this is already the number one way to crack down on the drug trade.
"You hurt the drug dealers worse getting in their pocket book, you hurt the drug cartels worse getting in their pocket book, or taking their property, than you do any other way," Sheriff Levick explained.
He says when these seizures take place, the money goes back to the offices that battle the drug trade the most, which is a problem, even in Oklahoma.
"All I see is it is affecting people in the drug world. Anybody that doesn't think we have cartels here has their head in the sand," Sheriff Levick said.
Some believe these numbers from the ACLU would benefit their claim to change the law. From 2009 to 2014, more than $6 million were seized, but almost $4 million of that was done with no criminal filings, which totaled more than 65 percent.
Senator Loveless says his bill, called 'The Personal Asset Protection Act,' wouldn't stop law enforcement from doing its job, it would give greater protection to innocent citizens. The goal of the bill is to make it more difficult for the money or property to be taken away before an actual guilty verdict has been reached. However, law enforcement believes it could create a "safe haven" in the state for drug cartels.
"I think he probably has really good intentions, but he is trying to address a nonexistent problem in Oklahoma," Sheriff Levick said.
Sheriff Levick says everyone who gets stopped still has the right to a trial. And the forfeitures can only occur if or when a judge determines it has a direct connection to the drug trade.