The scenario sounds outrageously illegal: Police officers pull you over or otherwise detain you for criminal activity. You may be charged with a crime, but you were not convicted and never pled guilty. Still, authorities may seize property, such as a vehicle they allege was used to transport drugs or a piece of property they claim houses a drug manufacturing operation. How is asset seizure or forfeiture legal under Oklahoma law? The answer to this question and others may surprise you.
Is it lawful to take my property under state law?
Yes, Oklahoma law allows law enforcement to seize any assets which were obtained by criminal conduct, including property acquired through violation of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act. Ownership of your assets doesn’t immediately transfer over to the government, but is held as evidence until forfeiture has been ordered.
What happens in forfeiture?
Before the state can order your property to be forfeited, officials must file notice of seizure and information regarding the intended forfeiture in the county where the assets are being held. The notification must be delivered to all owners and parties that have an interest in the property. At the hearing, the government only needs to show that the assets are connected to criminal activity by a preponderance of the evidence. This standard means that it’s more likely than not that the allegations of the state are true.
The preponderance standard is unlike the burden of proof in a criminal case, which requires proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt; even though there may be criminal allegations involved, the state’s burden is lower in a civil forfeiture case.
How can I get my property back?
If the state prevails at the forfeiture proceeding, title to your assets transfers to the government. In Oklahoma, 100 percent of the assets are turned over to law enforcement agencies. It’s possible to defend your interests and regain your property by proving that you were an innocent owner and had nothing to do with illegal activity.
Asset seizure and forfeiture are especially controversial under Oklahoma law, but there are defenses available. The key to getting your property back is retaining an attorney that has extensive experience in forfeiture cases, and comprehensive knowledge of the state’s laws in these types of cases. If your assets have been seized and you’re facing a forfeiture hearing, please contact the Law Offices of Robert R. Robles at (405) 232-7980 to schedule a consultation. Time is of the essence in these cases, and we can get started with a defense strategy right away.