On Monday, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee met and heard four bills addressing asset forfeiture, including State Rep. Matt Schaefer’s (R–Tyler) House Bill 1441 requiring the state’s burden of proof in asset forfeiture.
“Private property rights are essential to freedom,” Schaefer said, “We need to take resources away from individuals in a criminal enterprise, but what we have in the state of Texas has a framework that goes against the citizens of Texas and, in the state of Texas, does not require a warrant to make a forfeiture.”
The higher burden of proof would fall on the state of Texas. With a higher standard of evidence, however, nothing would change in investigations, according to the bills filed.
Derek Cohen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation came in support of three of the asset forfeiture bills, including Schaefer’s bill, saying that the commonalities of these bills do not change seizure, just forfeiture, and the work our law enforcement does is too important for there to be resources unnecessarily diverted.
Cohen clarified that the difference between seizure and forfeiture is that with seizure, the state takes possession of a property, whereas forfeiture is the direct confiscation of property to the state, without a warrant.
Thomas Wilson, representing the Smith County district attorney’s office in support of HB 1441, said, “Increasing the burden of proof would not have an effect on the district attorney’s office, and would protect property owners, and would help move along drug-related criminal activity that is an issue along the corridors.”
However, deputy police chief Robert Flores, with the Allen Police Department on behalf of the police chief’s association, and Angela Beavers, from the Harris County district attorney’s office, came in opposition to the proposed changes.
“I have seen firsthand that asset forfeiture has helped with curbing criminal profiteering, and there are already auditing requirements in place,” Beavers told the committee.
Beavers’ concern with HB 1441 is that it wants to raise the burden of proof, claiming that the property seized was generally for contraband, and more than 85 percent of cases are drug cases.
When asked for the average time to obtain forfeiture in Harris County, Beaver stated, “It varies; depends on what the due process is and if they do not claim the property.” She added, “[In] most cases that the property owner doesn’t claim their property, it is drug money.”
“We always have the burden of proof,” she added.
All four bills were left pending in committee.