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Should Texas police be able to seize property if no charges are filed?

On Behalf of | Jan 3, 2022 | Criminal Defense

The police have a lot of power, and law enforcement officers often utilize the imbalanced power dynamic to take advantage of everyday citizens. While this means being subjected to malicious prosecution and criminal charges that simply aren’t justified, it doesn’t take criminal action for the police to ruin your life.

Far too many Texans who have been subjected to civil forfeiture know this all too well. In fact, one man recently had $42,000 taken from him by the police despite the fact that he hadn’t done anything wrong. Instead, the man simply had two bundles of cash in the trunk of his car that was to be used for the purchase of a big rig for the man’s business. Law enforcement officers didn’t believe him, though, so they seized the money.

This is a common story across America. And although these seizures may be illegal, many Americans don’t know how to properly challenge them, meaning that they end up losing their assets despite the fact that they are never charged with a crime.

Is civil forfeiture legal?

The main goal of civil forfeiture is to disrupt criminal enterprises by striking them where it hurts: their pocketbooks. But far too often innocent civilians are left with their property seized by the government and are unable to reclaim it unless they can prove that it wasn’t obtained through illegal activity. This can be quite a burdensome process, and it can be complicated to navigate for those who are unfamiliar with the process. However, in many instances these civil forfeitures are legal.

Fourth Amendment concerns

But there are a lot of Constitutional issues related to civil forfeiture. To start, individuals are protected from unwarranted searches and seizures, where law enforcement typically has to obtain a warrant signed off on by a judge. These warrants will typically only be granted upon a showing of probable cause. In civil forfeiture cases, though, law enforcement typically seizes property only after acquiring reasonable suspicion to justify a traffic stop or detention of an individual.

The power dynamic then puts innocent civilians in a precarious situation. In a time when refusing police officer demands can lead to violence, many people who have been stopped simply consent to search requests, which allows officers to bypass the warrant requirement. Therefore, on account of the power imbalance, many people are essentially forced to give up their Fourth Amendment protection against a warrantless search.

Fifth Amendment concerns

But there are also Fifth Amendment implications, too. By forcing individuals to prove that they obtained the seized property through legal means, innocent civilians are presumed guilty until proven innocent. This is antithetical to the justice system’s presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, these civilians are practically stripped of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if they hope to recover their assets.

Know how to navigate your legal issues

So, the short of it is that civil forfeiture is legal in Texas, meaning that law enforcement has the right to seize your property if it has reason to believe that the assets in question were obtained through illegal means. But there are steps that you can take to protect yourself. Start by educating yourself on your Fourth Amendment rights so that you can avoid simply consenting to law enforcement requests to search you or your vehicle. Then, learn more about what you can do to recover your seized assets. If you’d like assistance in this regard, then you may want to consider discussing the matter further with an attorney of your choosing.