Issue: Civil Asset Forfeiture
Problem: The Texas Supreme Court recently held that evidence from illegal searches may still be seized in civil asset forfeiture cases
Background: The case the Supreme Court ruled on involved an illegal search, according to a trial court. Law Enforcement seized a vehicle they had searched, but the defendant argued that since the arrest was unlawful, the officers should not be able to seize the vehicle. The Court pointed out in their opinion that the legislature neglected to provide for a way in the relevant statute to exclude property such as the vehicle in the case from being seized. Effectively, the ruling means that while evidence obtained improperly (without a warrant or probable cause) can’t be used to prosecute you, it can certainly be seized by Law Enforcement regardless of the legality of a stop or a search. Previous efforts to pass legislation to fix problems with the asset forfeiture system in Texas have been blocked by lobbyists for Law Enforcement agencies, who stand to lose financially should they be forced to meet a higher burden of proof.
RLCTX’s Position: The state should not be able to take your stuff without a good reason, and proof that you are doing something illegal. As it is, to seize property civilly, the state files a case against your stuff, not you; then you have to fight the state to get it back.
RLCTX believes a higher burden of proof than ‘the preponderance of evidence’ should be met before Law Enforcement may permanently lay claim to your property via seizure and forfeiture. Accordingly, the Texas Legislature must act as soon as possible to raise the burden of proof for civil asset forfeiture. As it stands, LEO agencies that stand to gain from seizing assets may perform illegal searches all they like. Indeed, they have every incentive to do so. While they might not obtain convictions against the property owners, they would be – they ARE – able to seize property at will, and force innocent citizens to jump through exhausting, expensive, and unnecessary hoops in order to have a chance at retrieving some of their property.
TAKE ACTION: Contact your state representative and senator and ask them to support Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform in Texas. As the 2017 legislative session approaches, RLCTX will be sharing examples of legislation in other states to help guide the Texas Legislature in crafting better protections for citizens regarding asset forfeiture cases. Encourage your legislators to address the flaws in the civil asset forfeiture system and provide a more fair process for those whose assets have been seized.
Court Opinion can be read HERE