Legislation filed in Texas could reform asset forfeiture, the involuntary sequestration of personal and private property. 

Last Thursday, State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) introduced House Bill 1441, which relates “to the state’s burden of proof in certain asset forfeiture proceedings under the Code of Criminal Procedure.”

Asset forfeiture is used by law enforcement to seize cash, personal belongings, assets, or property based on the belief that the property is involved or perhaps involved in criminal activity. In the current system, very little proof is required from law enforcement, and seized assets often provide funding for the agency.

HB 1441 would prevent law enforcement from seizing an individual’s assets if they’re not involved with a crime or charged with one and would place the burden of proof onto the state. With the current system, the burden of proof rests with the accused, requiring them to prove they are not guilty, the property is innocent, and the owner was unaware of any criminal activity.

This isn’t the first asset forfeiture bill introduced by Schaefer.

Schaefer introduced a similar bill in the 85th Legislature, fighting alongside Democrat State Reps. Harold Dutton Jr. (Houston) and Terry Canales (Edinburg), who also introduced bills seeking to protect individuals not engaged in criminal activity from asset forfeiture.

In 2019, Texas ranked 47th in federal forfeiture between fiscal years 2019-2020, receiving $228 million from the Treasury Department and $515 million in equitable sharing proceeds from the Department of Justice. In 2019 alone, the DOJ equitable sharing totaled more than $18 million, and the Treasury Department totaled more than $7 million.

In 2017, the Texas Attorney General reported law enforcement agencies received $28 million, with more than $383,000 in interest and more than $3 million from the sale of forfeited property. Attorneys representing the state received more than $16 million, gaining more than $230,000 in interest and more than $1.5 million from the sale of forfeited property.

Currently, no companion legislation has been filed in the Texas Senate.

Iris Poole

Iris Poole is a 2021 Texas Scorecard Fellow from Round Rock. She is freedom-loving and had an early interest in liberty and politics.