To be able to answer the question posed in the title of this post, we have to understand what asset forfeiture means. The words themselves can be a little misleading.
Asset forfeiture does mean what it says. A person has assets and they are forfeited, usually because of some legal action. However, under the rules that exist in many states, including Texas, police can, and often do, seize personal property from individuals without much due process. It might be real estate, personal property or cash. And, it’s up to the owner of the property to prove the assets were taken improperly – something that can be costly to do.
Law enforcers say they depend on civil asset forfeiture. They use the money collected to purchase equipment they say they can’t afford otherwise. They also argue that it’s a critical tool in fighting crime. They can execute forfeitures without court oversight. In some cases, they don’t even need much in the way of probable cause to go after targets.
Most would agree that the infringement of due process that civil forfeiture represents shouldn’t be allowed. There have been legal decisions from the courts against it and during the last administration, the Department of Justice cut back the power of federal agents to use it. Yet, there are reports this week that the federal government is about to again allow the practice.
This news comes in the wake of an effort by a bi-partisan group of state lawmakers to pass a measure that would prevent Texas police from using civil forfeiture against anyone not first convicted of a crime. It like others previously didn’t get far.
In any encounter with police, individual rights exist. Protecting those rights is not something to expect from police, however. Criminal charges carry severe consequences if convictions are obtained. But, as the issue of civil forfeiture highlights, police may be able to apply painful and costly pressure without ever having to prove anything.
Does that seem right to you?