Let’s say you get pulled over by the police as you’re driving your truck toward the border. The officers question you and find bullets in your car.
You have a concealed carry permit, but no weapons in the vehicle. The police don’t care that you’re just heading over the border to talk about business with a family member. They seize your truck.
You didn’t commit any crime whatsoever, but you can’t get your truck back. What would you say if we told you this scenario is perfectly legal in the state of Texas?
This exact situation has happened before due to a relatively unknown policy called civil forfeiture. Being aware of it could save you from unfairly losing out.
What Should Texans Know about Civil Forfeiture?
Civil forfeiture harshly penalizes people accused of drug crimes in Texas regardless of conviction. Until the laws change, there is not a whole lot you can do about getting your truck, house, cash, or any other seized property back.
A Bit of History Civil Forfeiture in Texas
It was the 1970s and the War on Drugs had just begun. Lawmakers were establishing new and harsh ways to fight back nationwide against those involved with drugs.
At first, lawmakers allowed law enforcement officers to seize drugs and related paraphernalia if someone was accused of committing drug crimes. Since then, they have expanded law enforcement’s power to seize any property, including:
- Bank accounts
That’s right. Law enforcement officers could just take cash right out of your pockets if they could connect it to an alleged drug crime.
A Blatant Violation of Texans’ Constitutional Rights
This is a blatant violation of our constitutional rights. Over the years, many states (and even the federal government) have taken power back from law enforcement officers through civil forfeiture reform. Texas isn’t one of them.
In fact, the state of Texas has some of the strictest civil forfeiture laws in the whole country. Let’s take a closer look.
Civil Forfeiture Laws in Texas
The story mentioned above happened in Texas. The man in question had not been charged with any sort of crime – just accused. In fact, four out of five civil forfeiture cases aren’t tied to criminal charges.
Texas Officers Only Need a “Preponderance of Evidence”
Police officers don’t always need evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” to connect your property to drug crimes like trafficking or possession.
In Texas, law enforcement just needs to meet the “preponderance of evidence” standard. This means that if the truth is probable, police officers are justified in taking your stuff.
(By the way, you’re still responsible for the payments on any seized items.)
What about getting your stuff back? Like any process concerning drug crimes, it’s not easy, not to mention long, even if no charges are ever filed against you.
Talk to Your Texas State Representatives
Sound ridiculous? It is. That’s why over 15 states have undergone some form of civil asset forfeiture reform.
Texas lawmakers have tried to pass laws increasing the standards for seizing property or allowing for civil forfeiture only after a person has been convicted.
To date, all efforts have ultimately been blocked. Some lawmakers have even faced threats from the current President, who has said he would “destroy” a state senator who allegedly wanted to fight for civil forfeiture reform.
If you’re a Texas resident, know that civil asset forfeiture can affect anyone in your community who may be accused of drug crimes. There are no limits to how much law enforcement officers can take when they can connect it to drug crimes.
Talk to your state representatives about civil asset forfeiture reform and what changes you want to see in the state of Texas.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.