Civil asset forfeiture is the legal practice of police taking your stuff because they think you’re up to no good. Police insist that it’s a necessary tool to combat drug smuggling and similar offenses. Opponents argue it’s nothing more than legalized theft — and that the system makes it incredibly difficult for people to get their property back, even if there are no charges filed.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has found a way to up the civil asset forfeiture game:
Now, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol has a device that also allows them to seize money in your bank account or on prepaid cards.
It’s called an ERAD, or Electronic Recovery and Access to Data machine, and state police began using 16 of them last month.
Here’s how it works. If a trooper suspects you may have money tied to some crime, the highway patrol can scan any cards you have and seize the money.
“We’re gonna look for different factors in the way that you’re acting,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. John Vincent said. “We’re gonna look for if there’s a difference in your story. If there’s someway that we can prove that you’re falsifying information to us about your business.”
Troopers insist this isn’t just about seizing cash.
Officials claim that if one can prove he’s not doing anything wrong, he can get his money back. The problem is our legal system isn’t meant to work that way.
Perhaps those officials may have heard the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”? It’s been kind of a thing since this country was founded, after all. It was bad enough when cash on your person was seized, but now they can clean out your bank account, too?
An individual shouldn’t have to explain why he has money, especially in his or her bank account. If there’s concern amount where the money came from, there are mechanisms in place to check into it.
They involve a warrant.
Those mechanisms can be monitored closely enough to minimize abuse. Civil asset forfeiture has no such monitoring. The truth is, civil asset forfeiture is nothing more that government-sanctioned theft performed by people who are ostensibly charged with preventing stuff from being stolen.
Now departments can wipe out your bank accounts at the same time, and no amount of rhetoric from an agency set to benefit directly from this new form of theft should make you feel any better about it.