Action Item: Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

One of the legislative priorities of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas this session is civil asset forfeiture reform. As of yet, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has yet to hear any of the three bills filed on this issue.

The Republican Party of Texas Platform Plank 94 reads: “Civil Asset Forfeiture: We call upon the Texas Legislature to abolish civil asset forfeiture and to ensure private property only be forfeited upon a criminal conviction. We also request the State Party Chair and the SREC consider the abolishment of civil asset forfeiture as a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas for the 2019 legislative session and to utilize reasonable Party resources necessary to promote and support its passage.

The three bills filed this session are HB 182 (Canales) which raises the burden of proof for forfeitures, HB 479 (Dutton) which requires a criminal conviction for forfeiture, and HB 404 (Thompson) which replaces civil forfeiture with criminal forfeiture.

Currently, under Texas law, there is no requirement that property seizures be accompanied by criminal charges of any kind. To this effect, a government agencies can pursue forfeiture even if no person is arrested or charges ever filed, or if the underlying offense is dismissed or the person is acquitted.

Recently, the Supreme Court Of The United States has taken notice of this practice in the case of Timbs v. Indiana, citing “States are bound by the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines and fees when they seek to seize property or other assets from individuals charged or convicted of a crime.” Scott Bullock, the president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, said in a statement: “Increasingly, our justice system has come to rely on fines, fees, and forfeitures to fund law-enforcement agencies rather than having to answer to elected officials for their budgets, This is not just an ominous trend; it is a dangerous one. We are grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court established that the U.S. Constitution secures meaningful protections for private property and limits the government’s ability to turn law enforcement into revenue generators.” In Texas, an average of $41.5 million per year is funneled into local law enforcement budgets as a result of forfeitures.

What you can do to help / Call To Action:

  • Email the committiee chairwoman, Rep. Nicole Collier and ask that these bills be given a hearing, as she alone determines which bills are heard on this committee.
  • Email all of the committee members and ask that HB 182 (Canales), HB 479 (Dutton), and HB 404 (Thompson) be given a hearing.
  • If you prefer, call the committee members offices and relate to their staff you’d like these bills heard on the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee of which he/she serves on.

The committee members and their contact information is as follows:

Chair: Nicole Collier - Nicole.Collier@house.texas.gov - (512) 463-0716
Vice Chair: Bill Zedler - Bill.Zedler@house.texas.gov -  (512) 463-0374
Keith Bell - Keith.Bell@house.texas.gov -  (512) 463-0458
Jessica Gonzalez - Jessica.Gonzalez@house.texas.gov - (512) 463-0408
Todd Hunter - Todd.Hunter@house.texas.gov - (512) 463-0672
Phil King - Phil.King@house.texas.gov - (512) 463-0738
Joe Moody - Joe.Moody@house.texas.gov - (512) 463-0728
Andrew Murr - Andrew.Murr@house.texas.gov - (512) 463-0536
Leo Pacheco - Leo.Pacheco@house.texas.gov - (512) 463-0714 

For your convenience, please see the sample letter that you can edit to sign your name and send, or feel free to write your own.

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