Rep. Simpson files civil forfeiture bill

COURTESY/Dallasmorningnews.com

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, filed House Bill 3171 to repeal civil asset forfeiture provisions in Texas statutes and would require a criminal conviction to forfeit property associated with any crime.

The bill represents a comprehensive repeal of civil asset forfeiture in Texas.

“No one should forfeit their property without being convicted of a crime,” Simpson said.

Civil asset forfeiture, or forfeiture of contraband, as it is referred to in Chapter 59 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, is the process by which the state may confiscate assets of an individual that are alleged to be proceeds or instruments of crime.

Current law allows such property to be seized even if the property owner is never charged, much less convicted of a crime, Simpson said. If charges are brought, the seized property may still be disposed of prior to conviction, or in the case of acquittal, does not have to be returned to the owner.

“Our current civil forfeiture provisions, though a well intended tool for law enforcement, have eroded the constitutional rights of individuals. It is time we end the practice,” Simpson said.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, joined by Justices Lehrmann and Devine in a dissenting opinion in Zaher El-Ali v Texas said, “[C]ivil forfeiture, once focused on the illicit goodies of rich drug dealers, now disproportionately ensnares those least capable of protecting themselves, poor Texans who usually capitulate without a fight because mounting a defense is too costly.”

HB 3171 not only repeals civil asset forfeiture, it establishes criminal asset forfeiture so that the ill-gotten gains of convicted criminals may be taken after due process from drug dealers, cartels, and human trafficking rings while protecting “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…” provided in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, Simpson said.

“Our constitutional restraints on government power are like fences; they keep the honest people honest,” Simpson said. “Where our fences of presumed innocence and due process have been torn down, we should rebuild them.”

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