I'd sure like to see that "full accounting." Any reporter who's tried can tell you it's a lot of work to track how asset forfeiture money is spent at any given agency, much less at all of them. Somebody (perhaps DPS Narcotics) should be tracking this stuff.
The Montgomery County district attorney has spent thousands of dollars in assets seized from criminals on items that have little to do with official prosecutorial duties, including liquor for parties. Meanwhile, Rockwall County D.A. Ray Sumrow was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month for embezzling public funds, including using fees paid by convicted hot-check writers for an airline ticket for his girlfriend and other personal expenses.
Texas law enforcement officers seize millions of dollars in contraband and cash from drug dealers and other criminals. Half goes to law enforcement to cover expenses like police cars, while the other half goes to the district attorney in the county where the assets were recovered. Most district attorneys are honest and use some of this money to supplement prosecutors’ salaries.
Current state law gives wide discretion to district attorneys in how to spend these funds. Fortunately, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hold a hearing this spring on whether (and how) to strengthen the law.
Policymakers should demand a full accounting of how these forfeiture funds are spent. They should also consider allocating some of that money to the State Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which pays restitution to violent crime victims when offenders do not and is rapidly becoming insolvent. The illegal proceeds of criminal activity should be used for law enforcement, actual prosecutorial costs, and making crime victims whole, not as a slush fund for entertainment and self-aggrandizement.
What's more, I agree with Marc that part or even all of the asset forfeiture money should be devoted to other purposes. Letting the agencies that seize the assets keep the money creates perverse financial incentives that shouldn't come into play in criminal law and don't serve the interests of justice.
While I share Marc's concerns about the insolvency of the victim's compensation fund, I don't see a relationship between that and asset forfeiture seizures, very few of which are related to violent crime. Just like I don't think asset forfeiture income should be linked to ADA salaries - because then DA's feel the need to pursue forfeitures, perhaps improperly, to make their annual budget - it would be irresponsible IMO to rely on forfeitures for the crime victims fund. After all, if the war on drugs were ever truly successful and asset forfeitures declined, it would harm violent crime victims! That's an illogical outcome, and why I think linking the two must be avoided.
In the past, I'd hoped these funds could be used to pay for drug courts, treatment programs, and improving state forensic labs, but at the idea's first suggestion, the powerful lobbies for the DA's, police chiefs and Sheriffs began to howl like scalded hounds. Politically, in 2003 and 2005, at least, the idea was a non-starter. But with the Senate Criminal Justice Committee preparing to hold hearings on the alleged misuse of funds in Montgomery County, perhaps there will be a window next year to redirect some or all of those funds to more constructive uses.