Texas police can capture money and assets

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In January 2016, Houston police took $955 from a man they stated turned into a gang member with a criminal history due to the fact they suspected he become promoting painkillers discovered in his vehicle at some point of a traffic stop. When prosecutors found he had a legitimate prescription for the medication, they dropped the ownership charge.

But the man’s money still went into the coffers of the police department and the neighborhood prosecutor.

A few months later, near the U.S.-Mexico border, a Webb County sheriff’s deputy pulled over a southbound car that Border Patrol dealers had flagged for having hidden booths. There was not anything within the cubicles, but because deputies suspected it changed into tied to drug trafficking, they nevertheless seized the 2007 Nissan Altima. The driver wasn’t charged with a criminal offense.

The seizures spotlight the controversial but complicated nature of a common policing exercise known as civil asset forfeiture. In that regulation, enforcement businesses can take and maintain a person’s coins and belongings without charging the person with against the law. Instead, the authorities sue the belongings themselves in civil court — wherein assets proprietors haven’t any proper to a court-appointed lawyer — leading to oddly-named court cases like The State of Texas v. One 2005 Ford Mustang.

State and neighborhood regulation enforcement corporations deliver about $50 million in step 12 months through state asset forfeiture laws. Still, there may be little statistics on how this powerful tool is used in Texas. Agencies and prosecutors must file their normal earnings from seizures to the country. Still, law enforcement officials have successfully fought legislative proposals that could require them to launch data on how an awful lot is taken in character seizures and how frequently they’re tied to a crook charge.

The Texas Tribune pored over thousands of pages of court data to shine a light on how asset forfeiture is used by regulation enforcement companies in four Texas counties: Harris County, the country’s most populous and domestic to Houston; Smith County in East Texas; Reeves County in West Texas, which seized masses of heaps of greenbacks of suspected drug cash hidden in cars being hauled by way of tractor-trailers; and Webb County on the border, wherein many seizures came from site visitors stop on the southbound lanes of Interstate 35 heading closer to Mexico.

The Tribune studied 560 forfeiture cases filed in 2016, ensuing in the seizure of almost $10 million and 100 cars (the research doesn’t include federally-prosecuted seizures, and the Tribune selected cases from 2016 as a good way to seize their outcomes). The study covered six months of cases from Harris County and all 2016 seizures inside the different counties.

The cash seizures have been as small as $290 and as huge as $1.2 million, and police took vehicles ranging from a 1982 Chevrolet truck to a 2011 Cadillac Escalade. They also seized assets like Rolex watches, gold chains, and a 60-inch television.

The Tribune’s analysis also observed:

Half of the coins seizures have been for less than $3,000. In Harris and Smith counties, extra than two-thirds have been below $5,000.
About every 5 forfeiture cases began with visitors prevent.
Many instances have been linked to ownership of small amounts of medication. In Smith County, a woman’s 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer turned seized after police located 1/2 of a gram of suspected methamphetamine and a partially-smoked blunt inside the automobile.

In nearly 60% of the cases, humans didn’t combat their seizures in court docket in any respect, ensuing in judges turning over the assets to local governments with the aid of default.
Two of every 10 cases didn’t result in a related crook fee against the asset owner or possessor; in Webb County, more than half didn’t.
And in about forty% of the cases, no person who had assets taken from them changed into discovered responsible for a crime linked to the seizure.

These police seizures were slammed by means belongings rights advocates and critics across the political spectrum, who say civil asset forfeiture offers too much power to police and provides a robust economic incentive for them to take cash and valuables. But it’s additionally fiercely defended by using police and prosecutors, who argue the practice is a vital tool to combat criminal organizations like drug cartels with the aid of hitting them in which it hurts — in their earnings.