Property forfeiture laws in Oklahoma can be very unforgiving. Imagine this: you’re at home with your wife and child, watching TV. It’s early morning, and you’re finishing up breakfast. Everything seems peaceful, just like any other day. The next thing you know, there’s a loud knocking at your door, and you hear, “Police! Open up!” Immediately, your eyes grow as wide as saucers as you start sweating. The police break down your door and start grabbing all that’s in sight—your computer, flatscreen TV, jewelry, your child’s toys, everything. They tell you they’re seizing your property. This is a term known in property forfeiture laws and can be devastating. If you’re a a victim of property forfeiture laws, call a criminal defense attorney continue reading below.
What Is Property Forfeiture?
Put simply, forfeiture occurs when you surrender your possessions as a consequence of or in connection with unlawful behavior. Suppose you stole a car, and the police later found you. The officers can arrest you and force you to return the car to its rightful owner. In most cases, you’re arrested, and the arresting officers seize the car. Typically, forfeitures occur in sting operations and drug raids. Yet, forfeitures can also occur from criminal embezzlement or fraud, money laundering, and other white-collar activities.
Which Property Can Police Seize?
Most often, police will seize your drug paraphernalia and any property that can be related to drug dealing, such as your vehicle, motorboat, chests, firearms, scales, cell phone(s), etc. Not to mention, if there are any books or records relating to a drug crime, police may confiscate these, as well. But you may have to fork over far more expensive items, too. Police have been known to seize homes, rental properties, and even wedding rings if they believe you only came across them due to participation in illegal activities.
What About My Fourth Amendment Rights?
By now, you’re probably thinking, “What about my rights? Doesn’t the Constitution protect me against searches and seizures?” If that was your line of thought, you wouldn’t be wrong. The Fourth Amendment does prohibit the government and its agents from taking your property and searching your property (e.g., house, vehicle, pockets) unless they have a warrant or an exception applies. To secure a warrant, an officer must have reasonable grounds, based on the facts s/he knows, to suspect you’ve committed a crime.
Yet, what often happens is that an officer pulls you over during a routine traffic stop. S/he searches your car and finds cash. S/he assumes you’re a drug dealer or thief, confiscates your cash as evidence, and arrests you. It doesn’t matter that you may have withdrawn money from your bank to turn in a cash deposit. It’s also common for an officer to stop and frisk you and, during the pat-down, feel a wad of cash, and assume you did something criminal to get it, even though it may be a matter as simple as you preferring to carry cash over credit cards.
Forfeiture Without an Underlying Conviction
Many people think that in order for the government to keep the property they seized that you must be convicted of the underlying crime. This isn’t the truth at all. To get this you have to first understand that the forfeiture and the crime are two different types of cases. If you are arrested and property is seized the cases follow two different tracks with two totally different standards of proof. In the criminal case, for the government to get their conviction they must prove facts and evidence proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed a crime. On the other hand the forfeiture case is a civil case. In this kind of case the proof the government needs to keep your property is by a preponderance of the evidence the property was part of criminal activity.
Because the two are separate cases with two separate standards of proof to be tried on, the criminal case doesn’t mean that you get your property back. In fact its not uncomment for your property to be seized while you haven’t even been accused of a crime. The catch is that once its seized to keep it from you the government only needs to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that you were engaged in criminal activity when the property was seized.
Do I Need An Attorney?
It’s always in your best interest to consult with an attorney whenever you believe that your constitutional rights have been violated. Remember, you have a right—not merely a conditional privilege—to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. The government may not take your property from you unless certain criteria are met, regardless of how they assume you came into your assets. When you’re ready to protect your rights, you’ll need an experienced and knowledgeable Oklahoma forfeiture attorney on your side.
Tulsa Forfeiture Attorneys Near You
Have you been subjected to forfeiture in Oklahoma? If so, you should contact a civil forfeiture attorney as soon as possible. Hiring a lawyer will ensure that you have someone on your side who is fighting hard to protect your rights. Reach out to Kania Law Office by calling (918) 743-2233 or contacting us online.
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