Texas Civil Forfiture

The State of Texas has no more controversial piece of legislation than the policy of “Civil Forfeiture” which allows for law enforcement officials to seize the assets of individuals that they suspect, but have not charged or convicted, of involvement in criminal activity. In recent years more scrutiny is being brought on the prevalence and extensive abuse of civil forfeiture by law enforcement, bringing to local and state attention of the large amount of grievances that many citizens have and the lack of legal recourse for its victims. As Texas enters its 85th legislative session it is vital that reforms are made to curb the unchecked practice of civil forfeiture, not only to protect the victims of its exploits by officials but to also ensure that the constitutional rights of citizens are not being infringed upon. To begin discussing the issue of civil forfeiture, one must understand the background that led to the creation of civil forfeiture and the reason it is still in place today. In 1989, the law was written and put into place to grant law enforcement the ability to seize large amounts of money and assets of the growing number of suspected drug traffickers and criminals within Texas, during the Reagan Administration’s War on Drugs (Young, S.,2017). It remains in place today due to Texas still being one of the most used states for drug cartels to transport and sell their illegal narcotics throughout the United States as said by Jackson County Sheriff Andy Louderback, who also holds office as the legislative director for the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, that it is needed to combat the traffickers(Silver, J.,2017) . However, despite the honest intentions behind the passing of the law, it gave law enforcement agencies and departments a wide berth to be able to abuse the powers given to them and at the same time circumvent regular legal proceedings. Texas possesses somes of the most stringent Civil Forfeiture laws in the United State, and offers little protection for property owners. In normal civil forfeiture proceedings, the state must show that the property being seized is related to or involved in a crime, in order to keep the property seized a preponderance of the evidence must exist showing that there was a chance it was used in a criminal activity. However this standard is significantly lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt finding required for a criminal conviction in a regular criminal proceeding. This standard in turn makes property owners bear the burden for innocent owner claims, in effect they are guilty until proven innocent. In civil forfeiture cases, it is not a person that is being judged, but the actual item that was seized that is being put before the court, creating such strange cases as State of Texas vs. One 2005 Chevrolet Pickup and State of Texas vs. 12 Gold Coins (Young, S.,2017).  This is widely abused by police departments in order to fund more of their own Between 2001 and 2007, Texas law enforcement received more than $225 million in civil forfeiture proceeds under state law and $200 million in equitable sharing with the federal government from 2000 to 2008.As stated in the Fourth Amendment citizens have a right to “their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” and that no warrants may be issued without a statement of probable cause “particularly describing…things to be seized.” However civil forfeiture violates that in the manner in which law enforcement officials can seize property with little to no reasonable probable cause, leading to widespread abuse for departments to But the power to take property without due process continues to be abused by local, state and federal law enforcement officials. In order to begin the process of changing and reforming civil forfeiture in Texas, there must be a effort made to change legislation by Texas legislators and senators. For example reforms such as raising the burden of proof that the State of Texas  should be required to demonstrate that property is subject to forfeiture with clear evidence instead of the current preponderance of the evidence. State Senators are also taking initiative by proposing bills, such as Texas State Senator Konni Burton and her proposal of Senate Bill 380. Senate Bill 380 would require a criminal conviction before property seizure by law enforcement and would make homestead property, cars worth less than $10,000 and cash totaling less than $200 exempt from forfeiture. In conclusion in this Texas, the policy can be changed by either Texas legislators creating a repeal bill in order to reform civil forfeiture.