Civil asset forfeiture is a tool law enforcement uses to seize property they believe has been or will be involved in a crime. The property may be cash, a car, personal belongings, or even a house. Under Texas law, an asset forfeiture proceeding is civil and the property, not the owner, is charged with involvement in a crime. It has been shown that law enforcement agencies are using civil asset forfeiture to fill gaps in their budgets. According to data acquired from the Texas Office of the Attorney General, in just 11 Texas counties alone, they spent asset forfeiture funds on the following expenses between 2011 and 2013: over $41 million on equipment, over $20 million on salaries and overtime, over $6 million on facility costs, and over $4.5 million on "miscellaneous fees."
This practice raises the concern that law enforcement is “policing for profit" and relying on asset forfeiture as a regular source of income. In many cases, this occurs at the expense of vulnerable populations in Texas who actually obtained the items or property legally. The onus is on the property owners to prove their innocence, and the only way to recover the property is to successfully defend their right to the property in the county or jurisdiction in which the property was seized. Reports and research indicate that the vast majority of cases go uncontested by owners, which results in the state winning its case by default judgment. Expenses associated with mounting a defense — such as hiring an attorney, missing work to go to court, traveling outside of their hometown to the jurisdiction in which it occurred — often prohibits owners from trying to retrieve their property.
Texas Appleseed is working with other organizations to encourage ending the practice as it exists under Texas law today.
- New Toolkit–Defending Against a Civil Asset Forfeiture Case: Our new toolkit is meant to provide information and documents for a person to use to mount their defense. It features answers to top leading questions about asset forfeiture; illustrative videos in English and subtitled in Spanish; sample pleadings and forms that Texans can customize; and a checklist for appearing in court, among other information. It is available at www.EndForfeitureAbuseTX.org. The toolkit was developed with the help of volunteer attorneys from Dykema.
- Civil Asset Forfeiture Videos: Texas Appleseed created videos aimed at familiarizing Texans with civil asset forfeiture, funded with a generous grant from the Texas Bar Foundation. The first video, What Is Civil Asset Forfeiture?, gives an overview of the issue. The second video, Navigating Civil Asset Forfeiture, walks the viewer through the steps necessary to defend and reclaim their property in court. Both are featured in the toolkit.