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Civil asset forfeiture: political will, not reforms are the challenge

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Civil asset forfeiture has long been a favorite issue addressed at Estate of Denial®. With that, we were glad to see PolicyMic.com feature a post on this topic, a post specifically highlighting property rights abuses here in Texas.

This description of Tarrant County forfeitures was of particular interest:

The District Attorney’s office in Texas’ Tarrant County seized $3.5 million along with 246 cars and 440 computers in fiscal year 2013, according to an investigation by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Of this, $843,636 went to salaries for the office’s 16 employees. The county’s narcotics unit also seized $666,427 in cash, with $426,058 going to salaries.

Such forfeitures can happen before Texans are convicted, or even before they’re charged. Participants in a low-level drug ring at Texas Christian University — students who were selling pills and marijuana — had their cash, cars, cell phones and laptops seized by police before formal charges were filed. Police took more than $300,000 worth of cash and property; none of the students received anything worse than probation when the actual convictions came down.

EoD’s recent Civil Asset Forfeiture: ‘Policing for Profit’ on taxpayers backs column discussed a Texas Public Policy Foundation report, Taking Contraband Without Taking Our Liberties: Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform in Texas, which identifies Texas amongst the nation’s worst when it comes to protecting its citizens from such abuses.

The PolicyMic post notes that states are under increasing pressure to reform forfeiture laws. The TPPF report also includes commonsense reforms “easily attainable through simple procedural adjustments” that include:

  • Reverting the burden of proof to the state.
  • Elevating the standard of evidence sufficiency to trigger forfeiture.
  • Abolish the practice entirely.
  • Require the Texas Attorney General to approve equitable sharing payments.
  • Establish a common pool for holding forfeiture funds.

Reality, however, provides the sticking point. It’s not the reform that will be the problem. It’s the will.

With some helpful measures relatively attainable, the question becomes that as state and local agencies increasingly use these funds to supplement their budgets, might the political will for such reforms not be the real challenge?

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