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Texas earns a D+ for its civil forfeiture laws:

  • Low bar to forfeit and no conviction required
  • Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
  • As much as 70% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement in most cases

State Forfeiture Laws

Texas has terrible civil forfeiture laws, earning a D+. The standard of proof required to forfeit property in Texas is just preponderance of the evidence, and an innocent owner bears the burden of proving that she was not involved in any crimes associated with her property before she can get it back. In addition, law enforcement agencies enjoy a strong incentive to seize property. In cases where a default judgment is entered—as is the case in the majority of forfeiture actions—agencies retain up to 70 percent of forfeiture proceeds. In contested cases—those in which the property owner challenges the basis for the seizure—agencies retain up to 100 percent of proceeds.

Texas law enforcement agencies are required by law to submit annual forfeiture reports to the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, but these reports are far from comprehensive. Additional information—such as itemized lists of assets forfeited, whether an arrest or conviction occurred and breakdowns of civil versus criminal forfeiture cases—would make the reports more useful. The attorney general’s office is required to compile the reports and make them publicly available starting April 30, 2016. Unfortunately, this new requirement was not in place during the data collection for this report. The Institute for Justice was therefore forced to file a Texas Public Information Act request to obtain the reports and then manually comb through them to arrive at a complete picture of forfeiture statewide. Data obtained and aggregated by IJ reveal that agencies reported forfeiting more than half a billion dollars—almost $541 million—between 2001 and 2013, a fiscal-year average of nearly $41.6 million.

Show State Law Sources
Standard of proof

Preponderance of the evidence.

Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 59.05(b).

Innocent owner burden

Owner.

Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 59.02(c), (h)(1).

Profit incentive

Up to 100 percent in contested cases; up to 70 percent in cases where a default judgment is entered.

Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 59.06(c), (c-3); see also Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. GA-0122 (Nov. 18, 2003) (noting 70–30 split between district attorney and Department of Public Safety).

Reporting requirements

The Office of the Attorney General is required to create annual aggregate forfeiture reports from reports submitted by agencies and, beginning on April 30, 2016, to publish those aggregate reports online.

Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 59.06(g), (s).

State Forfeiture Data

Year Reported Forfeiture Proceeds
2001 $18,983,273
2002 $7,294,323
2003 $43,416,158
2004 $40,798,353
2005 $29,491,437
2006 $37,588,776
2007 $49,414,291
2008 $56,615,941
2009 $56,100,475
2010 $40,713,990
2011 $50,524,997
2012 $46,821,446
2013 $62,926,512
Total $540,689,972
Average per year $41,591,536

Source: Fiscal-year forfeiture reports filed by law enforcement agencies and district attorneys with the Office of the Attorney General of Texas. The Institute for Justice obtained copies of these reports by filing a Texas Public Information Act request with the attorney general’s office. Values represent cash and sold property and do not include the value of property retained for official use.

Texas ranks 47th for federal forfeiture, with over $349 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Federal Equitable Sharing

Texas law enforcement agencies are some of the nation’s most aggressive participants in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program, earning the Lone Star State 47th place in the national rankings. Between 2000 and 2013, Texas agencies received a staggering $349.7 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds, averaging almost $25 million per calendar year. As 82 percent of those proceeds came from joint task forces and investigations, Texas agencies are unlikely to be seriously impacted by the DOJ’s policy change intended to curtail equitable sharing; the new policy has little effect on such joint activity. Law enforcement agencies in Texas also received nearly $170 million in equitable sharing proceeds from the Treasury Department between the 2000 and 2013 fiscal years.

View Local Law Enforcement Data
YearDOJ
(calendar years)
Treasury
(fiscal years)
2000 $20,488,438 $8,944,000
2001 $20,477,030 $2,769,000
2002 $12,514,424 $2,184,000
2003 $16,831,494 $5,524,000
2004 $17,323,278 $10,239,000
2005 $19,260,566 $11,114,000
2006 $31,991,647 $11,290,000
2007 $30,833,881 $14,434,000
2008 $30,415,342 $12,376,000
2009 $22,856,539 $12,903,000
2010 $42,176,737 $23,201,000
2011 $27,809,359 $14,518,000
2012 $23,002,298 $35,193,000
2013 $33,738,553 $5,084,000
Total $349,719,587 $169,773,000
Average Per Year $24,979,970 $12,126,643

DOJ Equitable Sharing,
Adoptive vs. Joint, 2000-2013

Adoptions
Joint Task Forces and Investigations
Seizures
Proceeds

DOJ Equitable Sharing Proceeds, 2000-2013

Sources: Institute for Justice analysis of DOJ forfeiture data obtained by FOIA; Treasury Forfeiture Fund Accountability Reports. Data include civil and criminal forfeitures. Because DOJ figures represent calendar years and Treasury figures cover fiscal years, they cannot be added.

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