Oklahoma City Asset Forfeiture Lawyer
Jacqui Ford Speaking at the State Capitol on Asset Forfeiture on September 1st 2015
Plead innocent versus people who were never accused of a crime and have no issues with drugs or alcohol or criminal behavior, but their reasons for not being here today and the reasons they gave me permission to share with you is that they are embarrassed. Being dragged through the criminal defense system is embarrassing, being accused of having done something wrong is horrifyingly embarrassing and when you get the benefit of having a lawyer step in or having law enforcement deciding we know you’re really not a drug dealer so we’re not going to charge you we’re just going to take your money. The fear is that if they come up and they speak about that experience that they will be retaliated against. A number of the people that I’m speaking about are individuals who live in our communities and are small business owners just me and my sister and a lot of people that I know and love. Oklahoma is a great place to have small businesses and we treat each other with respect in the local business community. They don’t want to have their names and their businesses plastered on the front page of the Daily Oklahoman or the Tulsa World as someone who came out and spoke about the violations that took place in their lives because it’s embarrassing and it literally takes money out of their pockets. A lot of them fear retaliation from law enforcement and we’re going to talk about a couple of those cases here in just a few minutes. I have specific cases and case numbers I can give you so you can go and check my facts. With that said, they’re afraid that if they come out and speak against law enforcement or against the district attorney’s office that they will be subjected to retribution. We’ll take about that as we go through these case studies.
In theory, what you have heard from law enforcement through the entire summer about how we’re helping cartels and all of theses things, so I wanted to talk specifically about some of these cases. I care about due process, due process is a constitutional issue and every person who is being come at by the government, when the government is attempting to take something of theirs, whether that can be money, property, their children or liberty and most definitely their life and due process apply throughout every process. We have these flow charts up here and I should have done a better job of this, a friend of mine created this for me and I wanted to add to this and just quite frankly didn’t have the time. So it starts when property is seized, but let me tell you where the very first due process violations occurs in every single in of these cases. How we find ourselves in a typical civil asset forfeiture case is a traffic stop. For many of us it’s in communities that are designed to hit our major throughways, I-40, we’ve got a lot cases up in Texas county, Guymon, you know states all around, nobody’s going to Guymon everyone’s going through Guymon. So we have all these traffic stops, it’s a huge basis of how these things start. And so the first questions is “Mr. Smith where are you going?” and that doesn’t seem like a big deal, the United State Supreme Court says in criminal cases that questions is not incriminating in nature and therefore Miranda is not necessary. But fast forward when they start asking questions and they don’t like the answers and the answers don’t seem to make logical sense to them. But the answers to those questions are the exact statements listed the probable cause affidavit that is used to incriminate them, and what they’ll tell you that they’re just making small talk. And I’ve cross examined lots of officers, “well I was just making small talk”, is that right have you ever gone to a class that talks to you about questioning people about their travel plans? “Well yes” and what does is that training and experience designed to do, well that’s to teach you how to seize drugs and money from individuals because you have to lay a foundation.
So when they find out that they have travel plans, specifically I have a case right now out of Texas county and my client was driving up to Nebraska from Arizona and he was traveling with his wife to his cousin’s funeral. The officer, in this case had, the audio in his car, and the very first questions out of his mouth, and my client, I apologize most of my clients have drugs on them, but my client in this case, the cop’s very first question was “what’s in the trailer?” Not where are you going, not do you have drugs, not anything regarding officer safety, his initial question was, “what do you have in the trailer? How do I get in the trailer? Is it locked?” He finds out what’s in the trailer is a Harley Davidson. I imagine he thinks it’s a much nicer Harley than the 1985 piece of junk my client has been working for 15 years in the back of his garage, but his initial inquiry was, “what ya got in the trailer?” He testified in the preliminary hearing of the criminal case that he didn’t believe my client’s story that he was going to the funeral because the funeral had already passed, “and why are you going up to meet your cousins if the funeral already over? And none of this just makes any sense to me.”
So the initial questions they are asking are the first time their due process laws have been violated. Because they’re not under Miranda, they’re not being the answers to the answers to these questions can and will be used against you in the court of law, not only in criminal court but in many cases, which we’ll talk about in just a second, just a civil forfeiture case. And if those questions are being asked with the design and intent to use those answers as probable cause to take your money, then we have to address that, right? So if this is a valuable tool for our fight for the war on drugs I would like to direct you a case in Oklahoma county that is currently pending, if anyone wants to take notes, it is CB-2012-272, the state of Oklahoma, David Frieghter verses $119,820 in US currency. The plaintiff, I’m not going to attempt his name, the last name is Ngo. He was represented by the well-respected lawyers in the state of Oklahoma. If you don’t know about how to read case numbers the 2012 in the beginning of this case number indicates this was a 2012 case, as we sit here it’s September of 2015 and the case is still pending. In this case they charged Mr. Campbell’s client with a felony case of possession of drug proceeds. A preliminary hearing was conducted, Mr. Campbell filed a motion to suppress, the government continued the motion to suppress on a number of occasions and finally when the case was set to be heard, and it would have been heard, the state of Oklahoma stood up and announced their intent to dismiss the criminal case. Now that sounds like the state of Oklahoma is doing a good thing, and maybe they would be, maybe it’s that they don’t want this reviewed because if they lose and then it goes on an appeal and now they have something they like to call bad law. When they do the dismissal on the criminal case, and we’ll talk about this some more in the future as to why these people are afraid to come forward, when the government dismisses the case they retain the right to be able to re-file in the future. Had the government allowed the judge to hear the motion to suppress and maybe he would suppress it, maybe he wouldn’t have. But if the judge finds that the government stepped out of line then the government can’t re-file the case. It’s a funny little thing called double jeopardy.
So they dismiss the criminal case to move forward on the civil asset forfeiture. The criminal case was dismissed two years ago, and the state of Oklahoma still maintains $119, 820 of Mr. Ngo’s money. The file, and all I brought is the lead, so none of the discovery, none of the extra filler stuff, the court file, I just want you to see this is nothing other than the lawyer fighting over, who’s gonna get the money. Mr. Campbell has filed two separate motions for summary judgment in the civil asset forfeiture case and the only claim the government can give you as to why they believe the money is connected with drugs, there were no drugs in the car, the person has no criminal history dealing with drugs, the only way they’re connecting it to a civil asset forfeiture is based on the fact that any money found in or around drugs or controlled, dangerous type paraphernalia or contraband is presumed drug money. Thereby shifting the burden on to you to prove that it’s not. So my question to Mr. Campbell was where’s the contraband, where are the drugs? He says, “I don’t have time Jackie, read the file.” So I did, and the drugs, the drug contraband was the cellophane used to wrap the money, because in their training and experience drug traffickers like to traffic drugs in vacuum-sealed plastic bags. Therefore, every time they see a vacuum-sealed plastic bag that must be drug paraphernalia. So there’s no evidence of drug paraphernalia, there’s no evidence of drugs in or around the car, but because the money is vacuumed sealed, the government in the training and experience say that it’s drug contraband. Why is that important? Because we’ve talked a little bit about terms of the evidence. The professor did a great job of explaining it. I generally say it’s about tipping the scales of justice. Who ever has more grains of sands in the scale wins, right? This is a standard that applies to all civil cases, when one civilian is suing another civilian the one with the extra grain of sand wins. How did the scales get tipped in these cases dealing with civil asset forfeiture on this presumption? The innocent person who’s defending their money in this case Mr. Ngo does not have training and experience in how to not be a drug dealer. He doesn’t have any CV he can direct the court to show how he’s not trafficking drugs. The scales get tipped because the government agent, usually a law enforcement officer is deemed an expert and that enforcement officer stands up and say, “In my training and experience it has to be this because it can’t be anything else.” And that is in his training and experience because the tools used by officer to battle the war on drugs go right back into more and more on drugs. And this is not part of my standard plan but we’ve heard about, I think, in western Oklahoma where the training is coming from. For those of you who aren’t familiar I would direct you to desert snow, and desert snow is a training program that teaches officers, the sole reason of their existence is to teach officer how to seize money and civilians. So they’re getting their training and experience from people who are training them to be highway robbers essentially. And I don’t think my law officers are sitting there thinking that way. I don’t think that when they found this $119,000 that they were purposely, willfully, maliciously being mean to Mr. Ngo. They’re trained to do it this way, because it’s all about the money, which makes it an intellectually dishonesty to say it was all about the safety and procedure and let’s talk about how I know that’s not true.