Oklahoma Civil Forfeiture; Drugs Found in Close Proximity to Firearms

Oklahoma Civil Forfeiture; Drugs Found in Close Proximity to Firearms

Oklahoma Civil Forfeiture; Drugs Found in Close Proximity to Firearms

In this post, we will examine the legal standard involved in civil forfeiture cases when drugs are found in close proximity to firearms. Civil Forfeiture is a legal process through which the state or federal government first confiscates and then seeks to permanently seize private property from an individual. This private property can be cash, bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, or other personal property.  Civil forfeiture actions in Oklahoma are most often connected to drug-related arrests under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. These civil forfeiture statutes allow the government to seize property when there is a connection between the property and the illegal activity or substance.

Oklahoma Civil Forfeiture

Oklahoma statutes authorize forfeiture of weapons when they are “available for use in any manner to facilitate a violation of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act.”[1] The relevant question that follows: what does it mean to “facilitate a violation”? In order to examine this issue, we will examine a case that involved drugs found in close proximity to firearms.

In State ex rel. Redman v. $122.44, Joe Harrell, Jr. was arrested and convicted of possessing some 22 ounces of packaged marijuana with the intent to distribute.[2] Inside his residence, a safe was found containing, among other things, 17 firearms and .09 grams of marijuana residue. The state sought to seize the firearms under the statute referenced above. At the trial, the state sought to prove the firearms were used to “facilitate a violation” of the Controlled Substances Act through testimony from the officer  “that the safe was being used to store marijuana, and “if you’re selling marijuana and you’re getting it out of a safe, there are weapons there [that] could be, you know, intimidating [to] make sure you don’t get ripped off.” [3]  The trial court found in favor of the state. Mr. Harrell appealed and the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the decision in favor of the state. It was appealed to the Supreme Court, where the decision was reversed because the state failed to prove the connection between the property and the offense. The Court held the State must demonstrate that the connection between the property sought in forfeiture and the underlying offense is more than incidental or fortuitous. It noted that the mere presence of an item with drugs and a dangerous capability of the item to protect the drugs are not alone sufficient to establish the nexus necessary for forfeiture. The Court stated :”Not only did the State fail to establish the basis for an inference that the weapons in the safe ‘facilitated’ Mr. Harrell’s possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, the opinion testimony of the officer as well as the conclusions of the trial court and the Court of Civil Appeals, were all based on the erroneous assumption that Mr. Harrell sold marijuana at his residence.”

In the case discussed above, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found there was not a sufficient connection between the firearms and drugs in order to justify forfeiture of the firearms. However, whether the property is being used to facilitate a criminal act will be a very fact specific analysis and the outcome may vary based on just a relatively small difference in facts. If you have questions regarding civil forfeiture in Oklahoma, contact our office to speak with one of our Tulsa civil rights attorneys. You can contact us by phone at (918)592-1144 or contact us online.

[1] 63 O.S. Supp.2008 § 2-503(A)(9)

[2] State ex rel. Redman v. $122.44, 231 P. 3d 1150 – Okla: Supreme Court 2010

[3]  Id.

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