OKLAHOMA CITY –
You may have heard of civil asset forfeiture.
That’s where police can seize your property and cash without first proving you committed a crime; without a warrant and without arresting you, as long as they suspect that your property is somehow tied to a crime.
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 type of 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.
“I know that a lot of people are just going to focus on the seizing money. That’s a very small thing that’ s happening now. The largest part that we have found … the biggest benefit has been the identity theft,” Vincent said.
“If you can prove can prove that you have a legitimate reason to have that money it will be given back to you. And we’ve done that in the past,” Vincent said about any money seized.
State Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, said that removes due process and the belief that a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty. He said we’ve already seen cases in Oklahoma where police are abusing the system.
“We’ve seen 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 been misspent,” Loveless said.
Loveless plans to introduce legislation next session that would require a conviction before any assets could be seized.
“If I had to err on the side of one side versus the other, I would err on the side of the Constitution,” Loveless said. “And I think that’s what we need to do.”
News 9 obtained a copy of the contract with the state.
It shows the state is paying ERAD Group Inc., $5,000 for the software and scanners, then 7.7 percent of all the cash the highway patrol seizes.