Arlington, Va.—Imagine having your cash, car or home seized by police without ever being convicted of a crime. For people living in Texas, this nightmare is increasingly common, according to a new report.
Forfeiting Justice, a new report from the Institute for Justice, shows how Texas law enforcement agencies increasingly profit from the power of “civil forfeiture.” Civil forfeiture is the power to take property suspected of involvement in a crime. But unlike criminal forfeiture, police and prosecutors never have to convict the owner of any crime to take away cash, cars, homes and more.
WATCH CO-AUTHOR SCOTT BULLOCK DISCUSS THE REPORT AND IJ’S CONSTITUTIONAL CASE
In Texas, 90 percent of the proceeds from civil forfeitures go back to the law enforcement agencies that took the property, and innocent property owners have few legal protections. That’s why an earlier report ranked Texas as one of the five worst states for civil forfeiture abuse. The Institute is currently litigating a major constitutional challenge to Texas’s civil forfeiture laws on behalf of an innocent property owner in Houston.
“Texas law gives the government most of the advantages in prosecuting civil forfeitures cases and provides law enforcement agencies a direct financial stake in the outcome of forfeiture efforts,” said Forfeiting Justice co-author and IJ director of strategic research Dr. Dick Carpenter. “This report shows what results from such a scheme.”
Findings from Forfeiting Justice include:
• From 2001 to 2007, Texas agencies took in at least $280 million in forfeiture funds, and annual proceeds nearly tripled over those seven years.
• Excluding cash, agencies seized and kept more than 35,000 properties, including cars, houses and computers, from 2001 to 2007.
• Texas agencies earned more than $16 million in interest on seized and forfeited property from 2001 to 2007.
• For the average Texas law enforcement agency, forfeiture funds represent 14 percent of its 2007 budget. For the 10 agencies that take in the most forfeiture funds, forfeiture proceeds equal more than one third (about 37 percent) of agency budgets.
• Texas agencies spent nearly $315 million in forfeiture money from 2001 to 2007. About 74 percent was spent on equipment, while nearly one quarter—23.6 percent—was spent on salaries and overtime pay.
“In America, people should not lose their property without first being convicted of a crime and police and prosecutors should not financially gain from the taking of other people’s property,” said IJ senior attorney and co-author of Forfeiting Justice Scott Bullock. “Civil forfeiture poses one of the most serious threats to private property rights in our nation today. Texas, as one of the worst abusers of the forfeiture power, desperately needs to reform its laws.”