Friday, June 10, 2016

Oklahoma Taking Roadside Asset Seizures To A New, Chilling Level

Republican Oklahoma State Senator Kyle Loveless
wisely distrusts asset forfeitures and new devices
that read prepaid gift cards to seize those, too.  
I've always hated the idea of asset seizures, the ability of police and prosecutors to seize money and other valuables from people without first determining through the justice system whether said people are guilty.  

Oklahoma is taking it to a whole new level.

They now have card readers that can take assets from pre-paid cards, you know, those gift credit cards or those things from Walgreens or whatever that you can use to buy stuff there.

So far, they can't read regular debit or credit cards, but I'm afraid that day will come soon, since the techology seems to be there.

According to Oklahoma's News9, the devices are called Electronic Recovery and Access Devices, or ERADS. These devices read prepaid cards and allows police to seize money from the cards without getting a warrant from a judge and without filing criminal charges.

The motivation behind using ERADS is fine: Apparently, drug runners use pre-paid cards to conduct their business and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol sees ERADS as a way to thwart this activity.

But you can see how a corrupt cop and just stop people randomly and get rich quick. Who would know?

Already, people are becoming wary of driving into Oklahoma because of these ERADS. For instance, News9 said a company called Peak Power Manufacturing of Lake Park, Florida sent a letter saying it's banning its employees from travelilng to or through Oklahoma because their employees use these cards for business travel.

"We simply cannot risk seizure of our employee's and our company's assets based upon the whims of an honorable, dedicated and well-intentioned Oklahoma State Patrol Officer," company officials wrote

Not all lawmakers in Oklahoma are on board with this idea, either. News9 said State Senator Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, wants to shelve these ERADS, at least temporarily.

"So we're going to be able to tell their balance, tell their records, tell those other things without a warrant, without charges, and without an arrest and without a conviction. That's un-American," Loveless said.

Asset forfeiture has become big business for police agencies. For example, in Oklahoma, law enforcement agencies can keep all of what they take. In the fourteen years ending in 2014, Oklahoma got almost $99 million from seizing cash or selling off seized property, ThinkProgress reports. 

Loveless, the Oklahoma state lawmaker, says he doesn't like asset forfeiture at all, whether its from prepaid cards or other sources.

"We've see single mom's stuff be taken, a cancer survivor his drugs taken, we saw a Christian band being taken.....We've seen innocent people's stuff being taken. We've seen where the money goes and how it's misspent."

It's true people can appeal to get their assets back. But its hard. Largely because the burden of proof is on the victim of the asset forfeiture to prove the stuff is theirs. Whcih is hard.

A lot of the people who have their assets seized are innocent. In five years ending in 2015, Oklahoma seized about $6 million from motorists along Interstate 40 in Oklahoma, and $4 million of that was taken from people who were never charged with a crime.

As I noted last year, in 2014 U.S. Attorneys sized $4.5 billion in assets, more than burglars reportedly took from victims that year.

Asset forfeiture reduces public confidence in law enforcement. It seems outside the rule of law, and it smells of corruption. As I also said last year, we don't need more mistrust in our instititions.

So let's make asset forfeiture harder, not easier, like with the ERADs Oklahoma is using.

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