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In February officers conducted a search of the home in to set belonging to the defendant’s girlfriend. The police also search the car in front of the house, and found marijuana concealed in a small area above the rear view mirror. The state filed a forfeiture action alleging that the vehicle that had been used conceal or transport drugs in violation of the controlled dangerous substances act. The state got an adverse judgment and appealed.
Stay contended the trial court erroneously assigned the burden of proof to the state to prove that the defendant was not an innocent owner, meaning this that the Defendant had neither guilty knowledge nor reason to know the car was going to be used, or was in fact used, for illegal purposes. State also contended that the defendant failed to prove that he was an innocent owner.
The innocent owner defense derives from the section of the controlled dangerous substances act governing seizure of conveyances. Is defined to include aircraft, vehicles, vessels, or farm implements. The law provides for an exception to forfeiture under certain circumstances. No conveyance shall be forfeited of the provisions of the act by reason of any act or omission est. by the owner to been committed or omitted without knowledge or consent of such owner. Additionally of the act is committed by a person other than the owner the owner shall establish further that the conveyance was unlawfully in the possession of a person other than the owner in violation of the criminal laws.
The Oklahoma court of civil appeals has recognized the defense is available to vehicle owners, said Tulsa criminal defense attorney Stephen Cale. The act places the burden of proof on the state to prove the essential element of forfeiture. However, the act is clearly stated that the burden of establishing the innocent owner defense rests upon the owner. The exception found law depends on proof est. by the owner of the property which the the state seeks to forfeit. For example the claimant of a lien, mortgage or conditional interest in property may prove his interest was created without knowledge or reason to believe that the property was being, was to be used for illegal purposes.
Several officers testified at trial detailing the defendant’s criminal history. The defense first trouble with drugs occurred in 1985. The trial court held that such evidence was too remote to be of probative value, and therefore excluded it. The defendant was arrested twice in 1991. One time was in Texas, and the other was in Oklahoma. In September 1991, the defendant was arrested in Texas for possession of methamphetamine. On that occasion the police also found marijuana in his car. The car was the same which was the subject of a forfeiture action. In November 1991, the defendant was arrested Oklahoma and charged with possession of drugs.
The defendant testified that he bought the car for Sunday drive. His testimony was somewhat vague as to the precise date he bought the car. The defendant’s insurance agent testified that an insurance policy was used issued first on the car in January 1990. The evidence showed that the defendant drove the car almost exclusively from the time of his arrest.
At the conclusion of the trial, the court announced its ruling as follows; backspace: the court found that the state had failed to show that the defendant is the owner of the car. The court further found that the owner of the vehicle was another person. It also found that the state had failed to show that the owner had knowledge of the defendants illegal use of the car at the time of the police incident. As a consequence, the trial court then ordered the vehicle to be returned to the defendant.
The appellate court said that the trial court’s ruling reflective and obvious legal error, which was the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove that he did not know of nor consent to his sons and proper use of a vehicle. It was not upon the state to show that the defendant did not know or consent.
The defendant testified that he did not have actual knowledge that his son had marijuana in the car. However the innocent owner defense is not est. by mere denial of actual knowledge. The question here is whether an owner consented to or had guilty knowledge of the improper use of the vehicle. My guilty knowledge of his meant actual knowledge or reason to know. Resolving that question requires consideration of prior drug activities and/or arrest, reputation the community, and any other circumstance bearing on the existence of guilty knowledge on the part of the owner.
The owner paid for substance abuse treatment for his son for his son’s arrest. This unpromising when I use the car for drug activity of a father allowed him to drive it. Apparently, the sun made similar promises after each of his arrest in 1991. The record did not show that the owner ever took the car back from his son, or prohibited him from using it for drug related activities. You’ve got to get the best Tulsa criminal defense attorney for your drug charges.
The appellate court is not obligated to accept the trial court’s findings if they were tainted by legal error, said Tulsa criminal defense attorney Stephen Cale. Based on the courts review of the trial record, it held that the lower courts error as to the burden of proof is prejudicial, and required reversal for new trial. In previous opinions, the appellate court as construed the phrase unlawfully the possession of a person other than the owner as requiring the owner to show that he did not know and had no reason to know that the nonowner was going to use the property for unlawful purposes. In another case the owner’s testimony of no knowledge or reason to know of permissive users use of the vehicle under the influence of alcohol and no consent to such use sufficiently est. unlawful possession.
The law on civil asset forfeiture is complicated and is always changing. That’s why you need an experienced Tulsa criminal defense attorney like Stephen Cale. Call the Cale law office at 918-277-4800 to schedule your free initial consultation.