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Right Hooks

Not Drug Money, Just Christian Cash for Orphans

$53,000 seized with no proof of crime.

Nate Jackson · Apr. 25, 2016

We’ve previously noted how the practice of civil asset forfeiture needs serious reform because it’s little more than an unconstitutional windfall for law enforcement. Jason Snead of the Heritage Foundation defines forfeiture as “a policy that enables law enforcement authorities to seize property or currency if they suspect it is involved in, or is the result of, a crime.” With that, we now offer the latest entry in the annals of “justice.”

A 40-year-old Texas man was pulled over in Oklahoma for driving with a busted tail light. Police dogs alerted deputies to a stash of cash (which often bears trace amounts of drugs), so law enforcement escorted the man to the station for further questioning. The man, a refugee from Burma who became a U.S. citizen more than a decade ago, speaks English as a second language, so communication with the deputies wasn’t always clear, but officers found no evidence of any crime — except the mere possession of $53,249 in cash. So they took all of it, marking the receipt “Possession of drug proceeds.” They then let him go, busted tail light and all, though five weeks later, he was finally charged with a felony: “acquir[ing] proceeds from drug activity.”

The worst part is that the cash was earned by a Christian band, of which the Texas man was a part, and the majority of it was earmarked for a religious college in Burma and an orphanage in Thailand. No drugs, just music and charity.

Fortunately, after the story blew wide open Monday, the district attorney decided to drop charges and dismiss the civil case, allowing for the money to be returned. But it never should have gotten this far, and without the media spotlight, it might have continued.

Oklahoma’s forfeiture laws are among the worst in the nation — as in, the most permissive for law enforcement. And guilty-until-proven-innocent is the name of the game, which turns the Constitution on its head. Instead, Oklahoma should follow Nebraska’s lead. The Cornhusker state just abolished the practice.

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