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Abolishing civil asset forfeitures in Texas will only reward drug cartels

February 19, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Abolishing civil asset forfeitures in Texas will only reward drug cartels

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A reputed member of a drug cartel, not long out of prison for a drug crime, has been pulled over for a traffic violation traveling toward Mexico. After smelling marijuana, officers searched the vehicle.

Although the officer didn’t find any illegal drugs, she discovered a hidden compartment filled with money. The driver had no legitimate employment and can’t justify the money. The officer wrote the driver a ticket, handed back the money, and let the driver go.

As wrong as this sounds, it would be how Texas officers would have to handle this sort of issue if recent attempts to change asset forfeiture methods in the state are successful.

According to the Star-Telegram,  dvocates of reform allege that cash-hungry authorities are trampling rights and we can be saved from this offense to liberty only by requiring that someone is convicted of a criminal offense before any property is forfeited.

Civil asset forfeitures have a rich history of serving essential purposes in the fight against crime, and necessary safeguards already protect from government overreach.

Asset forfeitures eliminate the tools of crime from illegal organizations, deprives wrongdoers of the profits of crime, recovers property for compensating victims, and prevents crime. In nearly all cases, the person whose property is seized is found guilty of a crime.

Even in the unique case when a conviction is not obtained, investigators file a separate lawsuit and bear the burden of showing that the seized money or property was illegally obtained or used.

Majority of Texas voters oppose Civil Asset Forfeiture by overwhelming majorities

Some critics allege that under the current policy “innocent owners” — those who may have loaned a car to a drug offender, for example — must undertake some higher burden than criminal defendants to recover their property.

In reality, police rarely seize assets owned by someone other than the person accused of an offense. When they do, a property is often returned to the owners without going to court when police establish that the owner did not know that the property was being used. Additionally, if a property owner is forced to go to court, the law requires that it be shown that the owner was unaware of the property’s illicit use.

Additionally, there are compelling reasons why a criminal conviction should not be essential in seizing criminal property. In the case of the cartel member mentioned above, there may be substantial evidence that money is in fact “drug money,” but there may not be a crime being committed.

Current policy allows prosecutors to show that contraband was used or intended for an illegal purpose. To require a conviction would compensate drug dealers who keep their cash separate from their drugs, even with evidence of the money’s illegal source.

Requiring a conviction also ignores the notion that sometimes convictions cannot be obtained because a suspect dies or flees.

Moreover, requiring a conviction could punish offenders who might otherwise be treated more fairly. Low-level offenders are often provided with the opportunity to work off their cases by helping law enforcement in other probes. Prosecutors may agree to drop charges in exchange for pleas, or some offenders may be eligible for diversionary programs that allow them to complete rehabilitation requirements and avoid incarceration.

As with all laws, there have been moments when asset forfeitures under Texas law have been taken advantage of.

The examples most commonly cited, such as frivolous expenditures of forfeited funds by law agencies, made honest prosecutors cringe, and those same officials worked with Legislature to ban those practices.

Texas law enforcement agencies and prosecutors conscientiously use asset forfeiture to keep communities safer and to strike a blow against the crimes of human trafficking, child porn, the illegal drug trade and other criminal financial enterprises.

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