Texas law allows police to seize contraband. When you think about this, you probably imagine the police seizing controlled substances or drug manufacturing equipment from criminal drug rings. However, contraband may be any of your property that the police believe was used to facilitate or commit a crime – even certain misdemeanors. Because of the breadth of the civil asset forfeiture statute and broad definition of contraband, you can have assets seized by the police that have little or nothing to do with a criminal investigation.
If you have had your property taken by the police, you need an attorney with years of experience in Houston civil asset forfeiture defense. Attorney Ned Barnett understands the law and will fight for your rights to obtain your property after seizure. Call a Houston criminal lawyer at the Law Offices of Ned Barnett today at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free consultation.
Civil Asset Forfeiture in Texas
Chapter 59 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure is dedicated to the forfeiture of contraband. Under the law, any property that is deemed to be contraband is subject to seizure by any Texas peace officer and you, the owner, must let it go with the police. The statute defines contraband as the property of any kind, including real, personal, tangible, or intangible, that is used in the commission of a crime. Contraband may include:
- Drugs or illegal substances
- Drug paraphernalia
- Mobile phones
When law enforcement seizes contraband, a civil case is brought against the assets by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) or the District Attorneys (DA). It is a civil proceeding because the lawsuit is filed against the property, not you. This is not a criminal charge against you.
No Right to a Public Defender
You always have the right to an attorney, but you do not have the right to a public defender during a civil trial. If your assets have been taken by law enforcement, you must contact a private attorney to represent you and help you get your property back. Ned Barnett has years of experience with Houston civil asset forfeiture cases. If you work with Barnett, he will aggressively advocate for the return of your property.
A Potential Temporary Return of the Property
Article 59.02(b) allows for the return of certain assets to you while the civil lawsuit is ongoing. The statute states you can get back contraband through the execution of a valid bond equal to the appraised value of the property. Two required conditions of the bond are:
- You must return the property to the state on the day of the forfeiture hearing, and
- You must abide by whatever decision the courts come to in regard to forfeiting the assets.
However, you cannot retrieve contraband that is:
- Property held as evidence in a criminal investigation or a pending criminal case
- A negotiable instrument (such as cashier’s checks)
- A security (such as stocks)
If the state seized property you need to be able to use while the case is pending, contact Ned Barnett right away.
The Innocent Owner Defense
It can be difficult to defend the forfeiture of your assets. A criminal conviction is not necessary in order to retain assets, and the prosecution does not have to prove that they are contraband beyond a reasonable doubt, the typical criminal court standard of proof. The prosecution only has to prove that the asset seizure was valid by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lesser standard.
However, you do have the option to claim an “innocent owner” defense. To get your property back under this defense, the burden falls on you and your attorney to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that:
- You acquired the property before or during the alleged criminal activity but did not know and should not have reasonably known about the crime, or
- You acquired the property after the criminal activity but before law enforcement seized the property, and you did not have any reason to believe it was contraband.
You must know that you were not involved in any criminal activity and you had no idea and reasonably could not have known that the property was used in connection with a crime. These can be difficult factors to prove, but a skilled Houston defense attorney like Ned Barnett understands how to gather evidence and frame the facts to support your position.
Call a Houston Civil Asset Forfeiture Lawyer for Help Today
Civil asset forfeiture in Texas is an example of a law that can be used unfairly. Its purpose is to remove property used to commit crimes and proceeds of illegal activity from criminal hands. However, the law is often used to take property from innocent people.
Attorney Ned Barnett understands how emotionally devastating it can be to have the police take your property. You trust Texas and the police to protect you, not steal from you. If you find yourself in the position of having to fight to get your property back, call Ned Barnett right away at (713) 222-6767.