Can You Contest Property Seizure After a Criminal Conviction in Dallas?

Texas law has an ongoing problem with the due process of criminal property seizure.  During a traffic stop, enforcement officials have the legal right to seize an individual’s money, their vehicle or other possessions that they feel may have been used as part of the crime the individual is being charged with.

The original intent of asset forfeiture was to pursue wealth belonging to syndicated criminal networks, who should not be permitted to profit financially from illegal activities.  Think of the four high-performance sports cars in the driveway of someone convicted of fraud.  It is a moral judgment and outcome against people who commit felonies, on the grounds that ‘crime shouldn’t pay’.

The legal standard for the civil seizure of property is the “preponderance of evidence”.  That means that until the full investigation is done, your property can be seized until it is legally determined whether the property was involved in the crime or was purchased with the proceeds of criminal activity.

In Texas, civil rights groups have done a great deal of research and discovered that the “preponderance of evidence” allows for a great deal of power, and victimization of individuals charged with a crime.  Moreover, property seizures are frequently applied to lower-level crimes, including individuals charged with first-time crimes, possession of amounts of narcotics or Schedule II drugs in recreational amounts and more.

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition reported these facts, which helps define the problem for Dallas area residents who have been charged with a criminal offense:

  • Of 151 civil asset forfeiture cases in Travis County, officers seized $2 million dollars in cash, as well as vehicles, guns, gaming equipment, and recreational drugs and paraphernalia, or manufacturing equipment and supplies.
  • The majority of the cases in the study involved low amounts of cash, not indicative of organized crime. The average monetary forfeiture was $4,451, and 22% of the cases involved a seizure of less than $2,000.
  • Two out of six people in the focused study received their vehicles back, and between 20% to 50% of the money that was seized after the individual was charged. However, in most cases, it took months for the partial return of the property, and only after the charged citizen retained a criminal lawyer to dispute the asset forfeiture.

I would like to share some information that the public needs to know, regarding the terms and conditions of asset forfeiture and other legal obstacles that individuals face after they have been charged with a criminal offense.   I will also explain what you can (and should do) if you have had property seized as a result of your arrest in Dallas.

What Happens When Your Vehicle is Withheld for Evidence Processing?

Some of the possessions in the vehicle may not be part of the evidence that law enforcement will collect for your pending charge, but it may be held until a decision is made regarding that property.  For instance, if you have a laptop computer that you use for work, that laptop may be seized as part of other evidence in the vehicle.  Even if it belongs to your employer and is necessary for your work duties.

Another unfortunate example of seizure is when a vehicle is impounded during an arrest, and there are other occupants within the vehicle, as passengers.   Their property (including personal electronics, cash, smartphones, jewelry or recreational equipment) could also be held as part of the investigation.   In cases where a distribution amount of narcotics or other recreational drugs were found in the vehicle, that property may be assumed to be proceeds of crime and seized indefinitely by Dallas County law enforcement.

If property belonging to other passengers (including personal possessions or retail cargo for example) are seized as proceeds of criminal activity, the accused or vehicle owner can be liable in civil court or small claims, for the value of that lost property.

Can a Family Member Retrieve My Vehicle from the Impound Facility?

One of the unfortunate problems that people face after they are incarcerated is the impounding of their vehicle.  The vehicle can be held for evidence processing and depending on the nature of the charge, it can be held for days, weeks or even months.

Each day the vehicle is held in impound by law enforcement the owner of the vehicle is still required to pay a fee.  This charge includes:

  • The cost of towing, which can vary from $139.00 to $509.00 depending on the type of vehicle, size, and weight, classified as regular, medium and heavy-duty tow.
  • A storage fee of $20.00 per day is charged to the vehicle owner. This amount is a fine that is paid to the facility where the vehicle has been towed to and stored.
  • An additional $20 fee is charged for impounding the vehicle.

The average vehicle held for evidence processing as part of a criminal charge can be impounded from 3-7 days.  Access to your vehicle may not be permitted (depending on the impound location) on the weekend, which means that you can quickly accrue a charge of $300 or more for your vehicle.  It is a good idea to use your permitted telephone access to ask a spouse, or trusted family member to inquire on the status of your vehicle.  In some situations, it is possible for a spouse to accept possession of the vehicle after paying the impounding fines.  Particularly if the vehicle is for family use, and the spouse and children rely on the vehicle for work, and transportation.

Whether your vehicle is released to a family member depends on a number of factors.  If law enforcement processed the vehicle and documented the evidence, they may release the vehicle back to your family.  However, if the vehicle was involved in a felony offense, including human trafficking, suspected murder or manslaughter, or drug distribution, the vehicle may not be returned at all.

Your motor vehicle, whether it is a car, truck, recreational vehicles such as a travel trailer or motorcycle, can be seized pending a criminal conviction.  The seizure of your vehicle is legal in Texas, depending on the nature of your crime, and whether the District Attorney feels it is a property that was purchased with proceeds of illegal activity.

Can Leased or Vehicles with Outstanding Payments Be Seized by Law Enforcement in Dallas?

Is it legal for law enforcement to permanently take possession of your vehicle?  Yes, unfortunately, it is. And where this adds additional financial consequences to individuals who are charged with a felony, is the amount owing or the lien on your vehicle.

If you are thinking that law enforcement cannot take possession of a car or truck that has an outstanding loan or lease, think again.  What they are required to do by law, is sell the vehicle at auction and then pay the lease owner, or the lender for the car loan first, and then proceeds from the vehicle are retained as profit from the seizure.

The second option for law enforcement, where the value of the vehicle at an auction will not meet the minimum repayment to the lien (lender or leaseholder), is to return to the vehicle to the original owner, dealership or lender.  They cannot sell your vehicle and leave an individual who was forced to forfeit the vehicle with outstanding debt.  This is not done to protect the interests of the individual charged with a criminal offense, but to protect lenders against loss.

You Have a Legal Right to Fight Asset Forfeiture After a Criminal Charge

There are many case studies across the State of Texas, that demonstrate the abuse of asset forfeiture laws.  The truth is that many people do not realize that they have the right to fight for the property and possessions that were seized by law enforcement, as part of a criminal investigation.

Law enforcement officials are legally required to demonstrate (beyond a reasonable doubt) that your property was involved in a crime, or directly purchased with the proceeds of a crime.  Believe it or not, in many cases this can be difficult to prove.

Less than 11% of Texas fight their civil asset forfeiture in criminal cases.  Why? Because the process and expenses involved in criminal defense are already a financial and emotional burden for the individual.  They are often unaware they can successfully win back some (or all) of their property (including money that was seized), and they don’t know how or where to start.

If you have been recently charged and have possessions and valuable assets that are being held as part of civil forfeiture, get a criminal attorney to start working on the evidence and your eligibility to have some of the seized property returned to your family.  Redden Law PLLC can help you file the necessary requests, review evidence, and plea the return of your assets based on your case.

 

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