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When is it legal for police to take your cash or your car?

Many citizens in Texas and visitors to the state do not understand the civil asset forfeiture law in place in Texas. That can leave them vulnerable to potential abuses and financial losses. Every year, many people find themselves in a situation where police seize their cash or even their car.

Even people who never get convicted of a crime could still lose property to law enforcement in this manner. Unfortunately, in many cases, this process is legal under the Texas criminal code. Those who have lost property to law enforcement during an arrest or a search should review the details of their case carefully to determine if their items were seized unlawfully.

Law enforcement must believe the assets seized relate to a crime

In order for law enforcement to legally seize personal property under the Texas civil asset forfeiture law, there must be a reason to believe that those items relate to a crime. For example, if police suspect that somebody purchased a vehicle using proceeds from drug sales or routinely use that vehicle to deliver drugs, they have grounds to seize the vehicle.

Similarly, when police believe that cash on hand relates in some way to a crime, they have the right to seize that cash. Civil asset forfeiture laws often end up benefiting the police department. They have a financial incentive to take this property away from citizens. Unfortunately, the law does not require the criminal conviction of the person whose property gets seized. Many innocent people may lose their personal property or liquid capital to law enforcement in a wrongful seizure of their property.

Financial incentives may encourage the abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws

Vehicles and other possessions seized may end up sold at auction by law enforcement. Departments receive a portion of the amount that they seize through civil asset forfeiture. Considering that Texas reported $55 million in seized cash in 2016 alone, it's easy to see how seizing cash and other valuable assets could benefit and fund law enforcement agencies.

Many law enforcement officials insist that civil asset forfeiture remains a critical tool in the fight against illegal drug trade here in Texas. However, there is no indication that civil asset forfeiture serves as a deterrent to potential criminals or in any way impacts large criminal organizations.

Civil asset forfeiture can have a damaging impact on individuals, especially those accused of minor crimes and never convicted. If you believe that law enforcement seized your items wrongfully, it may be time to look more closely at the state law and at the details of your situation to determine if you have any right to fight back.

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