The Texas Tribune recently published an in-depth report of its investigation into civil asset forfeiture in some jurisdictions in Texas. Tribune reporters studied 560 civil asset forfeiture cases filed in 2016, composed of six months of cases from Harris County and 12 months of cases from Smith, Webb, and Reeves Counties. From these cases, local law enforcement agencies seized almost $10 million and 100 vehicles, not including federal law enforcement seizures of property.
Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement officials to seize property, including cash, vehicles, and other items of personal property, in some cases. Police can take these assets if they believe that they have been used in connection with or related to a crime. Prosecutors file a civil action against the property itself to retain the property, even if the property owners never face prosecution for a criminal act.
The investigation also found that in about 60% of the cases, the property owners did not fight the civil forfeiture action, resulting in the local government keeping the property by default. About 20% of the cases never resulted in a criminal prosecution; in Webb County, more than half of the cases never resulted in criminal prosecution. In about 40% of the cases, even if there was a prosecution, no one was found guilty of a crime.
Civil asset forfeiture has come under fire in recent years. Earlier this year, a Supreme Court ruling placed limits on the ability of states to seize property whose value outweighs the severity of the alleged crime. Some states now have adopted legislation that requires a criminal conviction to take assets through civil forfeiture. The Texas legislature, however, has declined to address the issue thus far. If you or a family member is facing any criminal charges, we may be able to help. As experienced Texas criminal defense attorneys, we have the knowledge needed to help you navigate through often-complex criminal proceedings. Call us today at (512) 474-4445 and schedule an appointment with one of our criminal defense lawyers and learn how we can assist you.