"When it comes to civil forfeiture laws in Texas, you have no property rights." That headline, from last month's Texas Observer, sums up a lot of criticism surrounding civil forfeiture, the law that allows police to seize property that was used to commit a felony.
The language of the statute has been called over broad, and many say abused. Complaints aren't just coming from average Texans, they're even coming from the Texas Supreme Court.
The court had the opportunity to address asset forfeiture in March but did not grant the petition for review; however, Justice Don Willett and two other justices felt the court should have taken up the case, and dissented from the denial of petition:
“A generation ago in America, asset forfeiture was limited to wresting ill-gotten gains from violent criminals. Today, it has a distinctive ‘Alice in Wonderland’ flavor, victimizing innocent citizens who’ve done nothing wrong.”
Abuses have been well documented and range from the inherent conflict of interest that exists when police are allowed to keep a portion of the seized property, to the fact that records are poorly kept across the state on the practice.
In a rare display of brazenness, the small East Texas town of Tenaha was using it as a way to pull over African Americans and Latinos and shake them down to fill city coffers.
- David Guillory is a civil rights lawyer with Lone Star Legal Aid in Nacogdoches. He co-litigated the Tenaha case.
- Forrest Wilder is a staff writer with the Texas Observer (@Forrest4Trees)
*This is the first segment in the June 9 edition of The Source, which airs at 3 p.m. on KSTX 89.1 FM. Audio from this show will be posted by 5:30 p.m.