Civil asset forfeiture is a process whereby local law enforcement agencies take permanent ownership of property after suspecting that it was used in criminal activity, however, this determination doesn’t even require a guilty verdict or even so much as a formal accusation.
It is a practice that encompasses pretty much everything that Texans despise: government seizure of property without conviction, poor protections for innocent third-parties, and incentives for law enforcement to continue the unjust behavior.
Such reasons are why delegates to the Texas GOP convention voted overwhelmingly in favor of asking lawmakers to totally abolish the practice.
While the main issue with civil asset forfeiture is the taking of property from someone who isn’t convicted of a crime, other issues persist as well. The reporting of forfeitures and seizures is inadequate and doesn’t provide much information for the public to use to hold its law enforcement agencies accountable.
Through a process known as “equitable sharing,” local entities are given dividends of forfeited assets in exchange for their participation in a federal seizure. And the use of those proceeds is not strictly limited, allowing them to be used on everything from germane items like salaries to office supplies spending sprees like Hawaiian vacations and margarita machines.
This flexibility creates room for potentially massive conflicts of interests.
Ahead of this legislative session, bills have been filed to strictly limit equitable sharing agreements, to increase the minimum standard of evidence needed for the government to pursue these seizures, and to place the burden of proof on government rather than the property owners.
Lawmakers interested in protecting the rights of Texans need to significantly reform the civil asset forfeiture process.
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