Subscribe for 33¢ / day

A recent story in the Journal Star reported on a band of highwaymen in Oklahoma that took $53,000 from a group raising funds for a Christian college in Myanmar and an orphanage in Thailand.

The shocker was that the highwaymen were sheriff’s deputies who seized the money under the civil forfeiture program.

Thank Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue that such a thing is unlikely ever happen again in Nebraska.

Garrett’s LB1106, which passed 38-8 earlier this month, bars Nebraska law enforcement agencies from permanently seizing money and property in the state court system unless they win a conviction in connection with the seizure.

"This is as strong a reform as we've seen across the country," Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice, an advocacy group that opposes the civil forfeiture program.

In contrast, Oklahoma has some of the most permissive laws in the nation, according to the organization.

In the incident in Oklahoma 40-year-old refugee from Myanmar who became a U.S. citizen more than a decade ago, was heading home to Dallas after touring the country for months with a Christian rock ensemble from Myanmar.

The Oklahoma sheriff’s deputies based the seizure on a “hit” from a drug sniffing dog. No drugs were found.

But that was all the evidence the deputies needed.

Unfortunately for the cause of justice, drug-sniffing dogs are notoriously unreliable.

The Washington Post story reported, “A Chicago Tribune study of three years’ worth of drug dog data found that the animals' positive alerts led to the discovery of drugs only 44 percent of the time. A controlled study by researchers from the University of California at Davis found that detection dogs gave false positives 85 percent of the time.”

The Oklahoma case resembled a Nebraska case cited by ACLU Nebraska in its report “Guilty Money” last year in which Seward County Deputies took $4,000 in cash and $10,000 in checks from a pastor collecting money from Spanish-speaking churches for an orphanage in Peru.

Reform of the civil forfeiture program is essential if citizens are to continue to trust law enforcement.

Garrett’s law, however, allows law enforcement to partner with a federal agency in the civil forfeiture program if the seized property is more than $25,000 and other conditions are met. The program was revived recently after a temporary suspension.

What’s needed next is for Congress to reform the federal law that allows seizures with such a low burden of proof. Maybe federal lawmakers, preoccupied in the unending battle between parties, might find a moment or two to spare between elections to focus on the public good. Founder James Madison, credited as the main author of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure, would be pleased.


Load comments