Law enforcement can use civil asset forfeiture to seize property they believe has or will be involved in a crime. Law enforcement can use civil asset forfeiture to seize cash, a vehicle, personal belongings, or even a house. In Texas, an asset forfeiture proceeding is civil. Prosecutors charge the property, not the owner, with involvement in a crime. Judicial forfeiture by the court does not require criminal action. Instead, it is a proceeding filed in court against the property in question. Administrative forfeiture of property can happen without the necessity of court involvement.
The Process of Civil Forfeiture in Texas
Civil asset forfeiture laws have been and used for decades in Texas. These laws were originally intended to take down criminal organizations by seizing their assets, so they can no longer operate. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have abused civil asset forfeiture programs in the past. In many cases, innocent Texas residents lose their property because they lack knowledge of civil forfeiture laws and the proper proceedings to challenge them. Many people do not realize that you can lose your property through civil forfeiture even if you have never been convicted of a crime.
When a person receives a civil forfeiture notice, the notice will provide a time frame to file an objection. It is crucial that you file an objection within the timeframe, or you could lose your right to object to the forfeiture of your property. As soon as you receive a notice that your property will be seized, we recommend contacting an inexperienced defence lawyer. At the Law Offices of Steven Jumes, we will provide you with a strong forfeiture defense and fight for your right to keep your property. Although it may seem challenging, it is possible to defend against forfeiture of your property successfully.
Texas Civil Forfeiture Laws
Chapter 59 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure governs Texas’s civil forfeiture laws. Under this law, law enforcement has a right to seize and sell any real or personal property used or intended to be used in the commission of specific designated misdemeanors and felonies. The law also allows civil forfeiture of contraband that a person bought using money obtained in the commission of certain misdemeanors and felonies. Additionally, law enforcement agencies Contraband used to facilitate the commission of designated misdemeanors and felonies. The following list of criminal offenses in Texas are designated as authorizing civil forfeiture:
- Drug charges
- Felony DUI when they’re our prior convictions
- First and second-degree felonies
- Drug charges
- Computer crimes
- Evading arrest
- Criminal trespass
- Money laundering
- Identity theft
- Various weapons charges
Warrantless Seizures of Property
Under Texas law, any property law enforcement considers contraband can be seized and forfeited. Contraband is defined as any real, personal, tangible, or intentional property used to commit a crime or the fruits of a crime. Police do not need a warrant to seize property they believe to be contraband. The warrantless seizure of property can legally take place when:
- The owner consents to such actions
- The owner consents to a search
- The state previously received a judgment in its favor to forfeit the property, or
- The property was seized incident to a lawful arrest
What Types of Properties Can Be Seized Through Civil Asset Forfeiture?
Civil asset forfeiture is frequently used to seize property such as illegal merchandise to import into the United States. The process is also used to seize property used to transport, store, or import unlawful controlled substances, monetary instruments, and other property worth $500,000 or less. When someone is criminally charged in federal court, they may receive a notice that certain types of property have been seized during the criminal investigation. Under civil asset forfeiture laws, the government is allowed to seize all the following types of properties:
- Property that has been used in an illegal transaction
- Property of value which was intended to be traded in exchange for a controlled substance
- Any financial assets or proceeds used in the exchange of a controlled substance
- Any property or assets used to violate drug laws
Civil forfeiture of a person’s property can happen in a case as routine as a vehicle stopped for a traffic violation. A law enforcement officer may pull you over and inform you that you committed an offense. The officer may ask for permission to search the vehicle. If the individual consents to the search, anything considered, the officer can seize evidence of a crime or contraband.
Getting Your Property Back After a Civil Forfeiture in Texas
Civil asset forfeiture is controversial, mainly because a person does not need to be charged with a crime to have their assets seized. Thankfully, US citizens are entitled to protection under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The 14th Amendment allows those who have been victims of police seizures an opportunity for a hearing. After a police officer has seized property, the state has 30 days to file a lawsuit. The state will take civil action against the property itself, not the property owner.
The property owner will be served with the petition for the lawsuit. The owner will receive notice that the state intends to seize the property. They will have to file an answer challenging the forfeiture. Failure to file an answer can result in the property automatically being turned over to the state. An experienced attorney can help the property owner fight against forfeiture by raising various defenses. The property owner can claim that the state cannot prove that the property was used or intended to be used for a crime or that it was the proceeds of a crime by a preponderance of the evidence.
Discuss Your Civil Forfeiture Case With a Fort Worth Attorney
You have rights if your property has been seized through civil forfeiture in Texas. Contact the Law Offices of Steven Jumes as soon as possible to discuss your case with an experienced attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Steven Jumes as soon as possible to discuss your case and how we can fight for you and your property.