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Fallin Signs Bill Giving Some Recourse To People Affected By Civil Asset Forfeiture

$100 bills, money, cash
401(K) 2012
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Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill Thursday that would allow Oklahomans whose assets are seized through the civil asset forfeiture process to recover their attorney fees.

State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, says his legislation will encourage people to fight back if their property is taken.

“They know now that if they have had their assets unjustly seized, and they bring a lawsuit in court to get them returned, and they win, they’ll get their attorney fees as well,” Holt said. “So I think that’s an important reform and a positive step in what has been a much-discussed issue here in Oklahoma over the past year.”

Holt says the measure may also encourage lawyers to take on these types of cases.

“And with what happened in Muskogee County this week, when you saw assets seized from a Christian band that were then returned as soon as an article was written about it by the Washington Post, I do think there are some areas for reform in this issue,” Holt said.

He’s referring to an incident where Muskogee County sheriff’s deputies pulled over a Burmese bandleader for a broken tail light two months ago. A drug-sniffing dog alerted law enforcement, when they found cash from donations, ticket, and merchandise sales, according to WaPo’s Christopher Ingraham:

All told, the deputies found $53,000 in cash in Eh Wah's car that night. Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson said he couldn't comment on the particulars of Eh Wah's case because of the open investigation, but it is clear from his deputy's affidavit that the officers didn't like Eh Wah's explanation for how he got the cash. "Inconsistent stories," the affidavit notes. Despite the positive alert from the drug-sniffing dog, no drugs, paraphernalia or weapons were found. Just the cash. They took Eh Wah to the police station for more questioning. They let him drive his own car there, with deputies' vehicles in front of and behind him the whole way. They interrogated him for several hours.

Eh Wah was let go, and no charges were filed. But the county kept the money, with the property receipt reading “possession of drug proceeds.” Earlier this week Muskogee County DA Ovil Loge dropped both the civil and criminal charges, Ingraham writes:

In an interview with The Washington Post, Loge said "I looked at the case and met with the officers, and determined that we would not be able to meet the burden of proof in the criminal case and in the civil case." Loge said a check for the full amount of money taken from Eh Wah will be mailed to Eh Wah's lawyers as soon as possible.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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