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The trial court filed its order of forfeiture in November. The trial court determined that Don had not met his burden of proof to show that he was an innocent owner entitled to having his property returned. Don appealed that order. He asserted that the trial court erred in admitting evidence detailing his prior conviction. He also alleged that placing the burden on him to prove that he is an innocent owner is unconstitutional, and that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that he failed to meet that burden of proof.
Property cannot be forfeited under title 63 if the owner establishes that the act or omission bringing forfeiture in the play was down without the knowledge or consent of the owner. Further if the act is committed by a person other than the owner the owner can establish that the conveyance was unlawful. The court first addressed the issue of Don’s prior conviction.
The evidence code provides the evidence of prior bad acts is not admissible to prove character or in order to prove actions in conformity with the bad acts. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is admissible for other purposes such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.
The evidence of Don’s prior conviction was amended to show that he had knowledge of how to use a racing operation as a cover for a drug distribution operation. The trial court has discretion in deciding the relevance of evidence that is offered and whether to admit relevant evidence. An appellate court will not reverse based on the admission or rejection of evidence without an abuse of discretion.
The appellate court reviewed the transcript in this case and found that the trial court was responsive to the man’s objections and carefully considered whether to admit the evidence of the man’s prior conviction. It was clear that the trial court admitted the evidence for the purpose of showing that the man had knowledge an opportunity to be involved in transporting controlled substances under the cover of a racing operation. The appellate court also noted that it has approved of admission of prior drug transactions in order to support forfeiture actions.
The appeals court next considered the owner’s claims that placing the burden of proving the innocent ownership defense on him is unconstitutional. The statute at issue requires the owner to establish that the illegal acts were conducted without the owner’s knowledge or consent. Additionally, the appellate court has interpreted the statute at issue is placing the burden of proving innocent ownership on the claimant who seeks that status. The statute provides for an affirmative defense to forfeiture action. A party asserting of an affirmative defense bears the burden of proving that defense by a preponderance of evidence.
The owner argued that this procedure allows the state to take his private property without having to prove its case. The appeals court said that this argument ignores the fact that the statute requires state to prove the property is forfeitable in the first place, and only then does the claimant bear the burden of proving his defense to such forfeit ability. In the case at hand, the owner stipulated that the property was forfeitable. Therefore, the only issue at trial was whether the owner wasn’t innocent owner. Thus, he had the burden of proving this. However, Don argued that the right to ownership of private properties constitutionally protected and that the state must therefore bear the burden of proving that such property can be taken.
However, and state bears this burden when it proves forfeit ability, to which Don stipulated. Consequently, the burden then shifted to the owner to prove why the property should not be forfeited despite its forfeitable character. He also argued that the innocent owner statute denies his constitutional right to equal protection because, in certain situations in which the state seeks to take private property, the burden of proof rests on the state. The court noted, however, that it is the burden of proving a defense that forfeiture which rests on the would be innocent owner. So, this provision does not violate his right to equal protection of the law.
He next argued that placing the burden of proving that he is the innocent owner violates the Oklahoma Constitution, which provides in part that no conviction shall work a forfeiture of the state. Tulsa criminal defense attorney Stephen Cale said that the appellate court is noted that Oklahoma’s forfeiture provisions have been held to be remedial, not penal. The appellate courts have said that forfeiture statutes are an exercise of police power to remedy past offending uses a property and to prevent future offending uses. Holdings if also said that statutes are used for funding to make the sovereign whole for the detriment attributed to, or incurred in the abatement of nuisance like uses a property that are late to the greater societal problem of drug abuse.
Therefore, the court held that case law demonstrates that Don’s property had not been forfeited as punishment for his conviction. Also had presented no authority directly holding that the burden of proof placed on him in the case at hand violated his constitutional rights. His final argument was that the evidence did not support the trial court’s decision that he was not an innocent owner. The appellate court disagreed.
It said that there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the trial court’s decision that Don was not an innocent owner in this case. He had used his racing business as a cover for truck transportation in the past. He had access to the truck and trailer at least two days before it was stopped. Further, Don testified that the employee only had noticed two days before he left Arizona with the truck and trailer. The trial court determined that that employee could not have orchestrated such a large shipment with such short notice. Despite the man’s testimony they had no knowledge of the large amount of marijuana being transported in his racing trailer, the evidence presented at trial showed that he failed to carry his burden of proving that he was an innocent owner, said Tulsa criminal defense attorney Stephen Cale.