Many people are not aware of criminal asset forfeiture until it happens to them or their loved ones. Criminal asset forfeiture happens as part of the criminal prosecution of the defendant, when the state of Texas confiscates someone’s property or assets. Often simply known as “asset seizure” or “confiscation,” this process allows the state of Texas to confiscate any property used to further a specific crime or property that is connected to a crime somehow.
If you are facing criminal asset forfeiture in Texas, the sooner you hire an experienced defense lawyer, the better. Unfortunately, there have been many cases in which the state of Texas wrongfully confiscated property from innocent people. An experienced lawyer can help you protect your rights throughout the entire process.
Understanding Criminal Asset Forfeitures in Texas
State prosecutors can bring a criminal asset forfeiture action against the person. These actions require that they indict or charge the property used in the crime, or derived from the crime along with the defendant. Should the jury in the criminal case determine that the property is forfeitable, the court can issue an order of forfeiture.
Criminal asset forfeiture is intended to help stop criminal activity and prevent the property from being used in other crimes. In many cases, state law enforcement will confiscate cash from suspects, assuming that the money is profit from drug sales or other criminal activities. Criminal asset forfeiture is commonly associated with the following types of crimes in Texas:
- Terrorist activities
- Drug crimes, such as possession, distribution, and trafficking
- Crimes involving the sale and manufacturing of weapons, including guns
- Crimes involving the storage of weapons
- Warehouse activities involving drugs or stolen products
- Violations of intellectual property, such as copyrighted goods and patents
- Various other criminal activities as defined under Texas law
Criminal Asset Forfeitures Often Involve Drugs
Many criminal asset forfeitures in Texas involve some type of drug crime. For example, if law enforcement agents discovered a significant amount of drugs in a home, the state of Texas might try to seize the entire home to prevent criminal organizations, or the suspect himself or herself from continuing to manufacture drugs there. Unfortunately, when a suspect is innocent, criminal asset forfeiture can wrongfully derail his or her entire life. When a family cannot access their home or the funds in their bank account, it can have devastating consequences. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you fight against criminal asset forfeiture.
Criminal Asset Forfeiture is Different From Civil Asset Forfeiture
Civil asset forfeiture is different from criminal asset forfeiture. In criminal asset forfeiture cases in Texas, the government seizes property from the suspect because of the alleged wrongdoing of the suspect who owns the money or property. Civil asset forfeiture requires a criminal conviction or a conviction of another type of wrongdoing. Law enforcement seizes property due to some other cause, such as a failure to pay taxes. The phrases are often used interchangeably, yet there is a significant difference between criminal forfeiture and civil forfeiture. Other differences include the following:
- In a criminal case, the standard of proof is higher, beyond a reasonable doubt.
- In criminal asset forfeiture cases, the state of Texas will provide the defendant with a lawyer. However, it is often best to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer
- Texas law enforcement often uses assets that were allegedly from a crime to fund state activities, such as recruiting more law enforcement officers
- Criminal forfeiture usually happens at the state level, meaning that for most crimes, it is regulated by Texas state laws. Civil forfeiture is usually regulated by federal laws.
What Happens When Law Enforcement Abuses Its Power?
As a suspect of a crime, or a defendant has rights. The state of Texas only has the right to take property that was used during the commission of a crime or property that was obtained as a result of criminal activity. The government cannot take anything they want that you own just because they have charged you with a crime. Government agents must consider the suspect’s property before taking it, and they must decide whether the following requirements have been met:
- The owner of the property in question has already been convicted, or has been charged with a crime and is awaiting a possible conviction
- The property confiscation is allowed under the Texas criminal code
- A strong connection exists between the criminal activity and the property, or have a way to justify the confiscation of the property from the owner in some other way
Defenses to Criminal Asset Forfeiture
One of the best defenses to criminal asset forfeiture is to prove that the assets in question were not related to a crime. For example, if law enforcement seizes your home or car, alleging that you used them to traffic drugs, you can attempt to show that you did not use the house or car to commit a crime. Perhaps you used another person’s vehicle. Under the innocent owner defense, the defendant charged with a crime can claim that their property should not be forfeited because they are innocent.
Remember, law enforcement can only confiscate property if the defendant has been charged with a crime or has been convicted of the crime. If you plan on making this defense, you will need to prove that you did not commit the underlying crime because:
- You lacked the knowledge of the crime necessary to use your property in the commission of the crime, or
- You did not give consent to the crime that took place
For example, if you loaned your friend your car, unaware that your friend intended to use your car for trafficking drugs, you can raise the “innocent owner defense.”
Contact Our Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers
If you have been charged with a crime and you are facing criminal asset forfeiture, you need an experienced lawyer. Contact our Texas criminal defense lawyer today to schedule your initial consultation.