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Testimony on Oklahoma Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform
Oklahoma State Capitol (2015)
  • Stephen E Henderson, University of Oklahoma College of Law
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today about Senate Bill 838 and the reform of Oklahoma’s civil asset forfeiture. I am a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma, where my teaching and research focus on criminal law and procedure. I have experience achieving consensus solutions in contested areas of law, most notably in the six years I spent drafting a new set of ABA Criminal Justice Standards, and I know that change is rarely easy. No matter the topic and whatever the status quo, there is sure to be someone who feels it is in her best interest to preserve it. And when that someone is a participant in our system of criminal justice, a system in which every participant is critical for justice to have any chance to prevail, that voice is to be taken seriously. In this instance, the affected participants include innocent Oklahoma citizens and also our law enforcement officers. In particular, our civil asset forfeiture laws unnecessarily put our officers in the position of defending themselves against charges of impropriety because of the inherent conflict of interest that results when police seizure of private property directly benefits a local police department or municipality. I can only hope, therefore, that you are willing, and that your Senate and House colleagues are willing, to consider not only the perverse incentives and inadequate safeguards of Oklahoma’s current system of civil forfeiture—which are unworthy of Oklahoma’s longstanding commitment to property and personal rights—but to also consider the very serious concerns of law enforcement regarding inadequate or at least uncertain means of funding. I humbly submit that we owe our law enforcement better, just as we owe better to the men and women who prosecute those who break our laws. Fortunately, Oklahoma can reform its system of civil forfeiture in largely revenue-neutral ways. In other words, a win-win should be possible: a win for the personal and property rights of Oklahomans, and a win for the men and woman who look to keep us safe.
I will speak to the following in a very brief and summary fashion: the history of civil forfeiture in the United States and its constitutional limitations, the abuses that have come to light in the past few years, and the resulting nationwide trends. I will then spend the bulk of my time reviewing each of the proposed changes to Oklahoma’s law.
  • forfeiture
Publication Date
September 1, 2015
Citation Information
Stephen E Henderson. "Testimony on Oklahoma Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform" Oklahoma State Capitol (2015)
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