The notion of suing an inanimate object might seem silly, but the government does it all the time. As a matter of fact, this custom is a major source of revenue for many law enforcement agencies. Called “civil asset forfeiture,” the controversial practice allows law enforcement organizations to permanently seize the belongings of a private citizen if it is believed that the assets contributed to the commission of a crime. It is crucial to note that this is a civil not a criminal proceeding and that the defendant in said proceeding is the object seized, not its owner. That’s right. As nonsensical as it sounds, “The State of Texas vs. Stack of Money” is not that far-fetched a name for a civil case.
In these cases, the “guilt” or “innocence” of the seized object is determined. This determination dictates whether the property is to be returned to its original owner or absorbed by the law enforcement department responsible for its seizure. The kicker is, it is on the property owner to prove that the object(s) were not involved with or the byproduct(s) of a criminal enterprise. This can be a costly endeavor and legal fees often exceed the value of the seized property; therefore, many asset forfeitures go uncontested. Uncontested seizures, in the majority of circumstances, are liquidated and added to the budgets of law enforcement agencies. This trend is problematic because it intertwines the financial health of the agency with the number of asset seizures it carries out, therefore incentivizing the practice. Hooked on this revenue stream, law enforcement bodies become increasingly likely to abuse this system and seize the property of innocent citizens for departmental profit.
Obviously, opinions about this issue tend to be strong. Law enforcement agencies contend that civil asset forfeiture is the only way to truly cripple large-scale organized crime syndicates and they undoubtedly enjoy the funds the practice generates. On the flip side of that coin, many find the system an outrageous violation of due process and demand policy reform. Numerous bills, advocating everything from policy amendment to full-on abolition of asset forfeiture, have died silently; but, the fight rages on in the Texas House of Representatives. On November 12, 2018, Texas State Representative Terry Canales filed House Bill No. 182. This proposal alters the language of various aspects of Texas’ Code of Criminal Procedure, primarily Article 59. It mandates, among other things, that the burden of proof be shifted to the state and that all civil asset forfeiture cases be automatically scheduled for trial. (To read this bill, visit: Texas HB 182) Other bills have advocated that the legal fees of vindicated property owners be paid by the department responsible for the seizure. Texas’ civil asset forfeiture policies are widely regarded as some of the nation’s worst. The Lone Star State trails the vast majority of the nation with regard to policy reform.
If the government is trying to forfeit your property, it’s important that you contact Blass Law so we can help you. We must file an answer by the first Monday after 20 days have passed.