The goal of civil asset forfeiture is to deter people who help criminals. If law enforcement seizes property related to criminal activity, it could deter more crime from taking place. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work as planned.
In 2017 alone, Texas law enforcement seized over $50 million worth of assets in criminal and civil forfeiture. While much of this is likely properly obtained, there are several issues that crop up with civil asset forfeiture including:
Unlike with criminal asset forfeiture, civil asset forfeiture does not require law enforcement to prove your property was used in a crime. Instead, the burden of proof is on you as the property owner to prove that it wasn’t.
If law enforcement suspects criminals used your property, they can take it. People must then pursue legal action and pay expensive court fees to get their own property back.
In the past, law enforcement has forced citizens to sign documentation releasing seized assets like cars, cash or weapons under threat of severe criminal charges.
Even if someone wasn’t committing a crime, law enforcement coerced them into releasing their property. This left the victims with no recourse, as they had already signed away their rights to whatever had been seized.
Incentives to seize
Civil asset forfeiture is also known as “policing for profit”, and with good reason. Law enforcement is encouraged to make these kinds of property seizures because of the financial gains that come with them.
A police department can make a tidy profit from seizing the right assets. Unscrupulous officers may not care whether your cash is legal or not. To keep seizures uncontested, they may target minorities or people who cannot afford to go to court.
An ongoing problem
As 2017 shows, asset seizure isn’t slowing down in Texas. If law enforcement targets your property for seizure, it’s important to know what to do. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you keep what’s yours.