After the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee examined the problem in an interim study, Chairman John Whitmire last week filed SB 1529 to reform the state's asset forfeiture laws. The bill forbids:
- prosecutors as well as police from requesting or inducing someone to sign a waiver of property rights until after forfeiture proceedings have been initiated in court.
- using forfeiture funds for campaign contributions, alcohol, judicial training, or donations to nonprofits unrelated to public safety.
- a retiring official from spending money (as happened with the Harris County Sheriff) on their way out the door without approval by the commissioners court
These additions give some much-needed teeth to the asset forfeiture statute since its provisions until now have basically been unenforceable. As Sen. Whitmire told the Chicago Tribune:
"The law has gotten away from what was intended, which was to take the profits of a bad guy's crime spree and use it for additional crime-fighting," Whitmire said. "Now it's largely being used to pay police salaries—and it's being abused because you don't even have to be a bad guy to lose your property."Regrettably, the legislation stops short of requiring a criminal conviction before assets may be seized, which would be my preference, but it will at least provide more documentation about seized funds, restrict documented abuses, and create an enforcement provision, erecting new barriers to the kind of shakedowns described in East Texas.
See related Grits posts:
- DA's overreliance on asset forfeiture violates the law
- Take the profit motive out of asset forfeiture
- Senate committee: Asset forfeiture too often a profit-making venture
- Outgoing Sheriff went on forfeiture-backed spending spree
- Asset forfeiture dependent Sheriff views Hwy 77 as 'piggy bank'
- Asset forfeiture funds may get more accountability, money diverted to drug courts
- Levin: Assets seized from criminals shouldn't become political slush fund
- Wichita Falls proves asset forfeiture can't finance drug units
- What's the difference between a pirate and a privateer?