Sometimes during an arrest, a police officer may find cause to seize assets or property from the arrested individual. State laws dictate when and how police can seize assets and determine the distribution of the proceeds. Police primarily use these laws to take cars or large sums of cash.

Many critics believe asset forfeiture laws are unconstitutional as most states do not require a criminal conviction for police to seize individual assets. In Texas, if police suspect an individual’s property is involved in criminal activity or obtained through criminal means, they may seize it.

Texas civil asset forfeiture laws

National debate surrounds asset forfeiture laws, with bipartisan legislators arguing that these tactics provide the police too much power over the property of private citizens. Inspired legislators in 35 states and the District of Columbia have successfully reformed their asset forfeiture laws to set the bar for seizure a little higher. Many states now even require a criminal conviction. Texas is not among them.

Current forfeiture law in Texas dictates that a “preponderance of evidence” must exist for officials to seize property. Police may seize property if there is a greater than 50% chance the property is involved in criminal activity.

Last year, the Texas Tribune investigated four different Texas police departments and their use of civil asset forfeiture. The 560 forfeiture cases in 2016 highlight the complex nature of civil asset forfeiture and its long legal history. Police seized over $50 million in assets in 2016, from as low as a $290 cash seizure to a 2011 Cadillac Escalade. Under Texas law, police departments keep 70% of all seized assets. More than two-thirds of these cash seizures were for less than $5,000, and 40% of the cases found no connection to crime. In these cases, the police do not automatically return the property either — a person must file a lawsuit to recover the seized property. After paying court and attorney’s fees, Texans may find these lawsuits rarely worth the expense.

Explore legal options

Texans with questions about recovering their seized property can find answers with a local attorney familiar with criminal law and working with police. Until legislators make changes to Texas law, a lawsuit may be the only way to recover one’s property.

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