Muskogee, Okla.—This afternoon, Muskogee, Oklahoma, District Attorney Orvil Loge indicated that his office was officially dropping all charges against Eh Wah, a Burmese refugee he had charged with possession of drug proceeds [background stories from the Institute for Justice and the Washington Post]. He also indicated that he would drop the civil forfeiture and immediately return the money Muskogee law enforcement officials took from a group of Karen Christian refugees from Burma and Thailand. The announcement comes less than a day after the Institute for Justice announced that it was representing the innocent owners in the case.
Following the announcement, Institute for Justice (IJ) Attorney Dan Alban issued the following statement:
“We are thrilled that District Attorney Loge has dropped the criminal case against Eh Wah and offered to return the money to the band, the church and the orphanage. The intense public scrutiny generated by this outrageous case led to justice being served. Unfortunately, civil forfeiture laws allows property to be seized from innocent people every day in this country. The law allows this to occur and most people do not have the media or pro bono counsel to fight it. Absent the extraordinary circumstances of this case, that property is almost always forfeited and lost for good, even if no one is charged with or convicted of a crime.”IJ Senior Attorney Matt Miller added:
“Muskogee has no excuse for this gross miscarriage of justice. Based on next to no evidence, what started as an ordinary traffic stop turned into a nightmare. They turned a man’s entire life upside down. It should have never come to this. This is a clear-cut case of abuse of power.”
“Not every civil forfeiture victim is a Christian orphanage or a world-renowned Burmese Christian band, but when even their money isn’t safe, no one’s money is safe from forfeiture abuse. This case illustrates that civil forfeiture laws are fundamentally unjust.”
“Earlier this year, Oklahoma rejected a bill that would have reformed the state’s civil forfeiture laws to better protect property owners after law enforcement claimed that there was no evidence the law was being abused. This case shows that no one’s property is safe from a forfeiture system that incentivizes police to take as much cash and property as possible while making it difficult for owners of that property to fight back. Civil forfeiture needs to end, or be radically reformed. It cannot come soon enough.”Finally, Eh Wah added:
“This was an experience that no one should ever have to live through. It felt like something that would happen in a third-world country, but not in the United States. I’m just so happy that this is over and I hope that no one else will have to go through something like this.”
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It's amazing how quickly justice can move when enough attention is brought to bear. It certainly makes you wonder about similar situations where money is wrongly seized, but this type of ending doesn't occur. Kudos to the Washington Post and others for shining light on this, and bringing this outcome to pass.
Mike McCarville (the "elder statesman" of Oklahoma's conservative blogosphere) has been beating the drum for quite some time now on changing Oklahoma's civil asset forfeiture laws. It's a shame that powers-that-be in the state legislature stopped State Sen. Kyle Loveless' attempts to bring much-needed reform to this issue.