Longview state Rep. David Simpson filed a bill Wednesday in Austin to repeal Texas civil asset forfeiture law and instead require that money and property be taken only after someone has been criminally convicted of a crime related to the property.
“No one should forfeit their property without being convicted of a crime,” the Republican said. “Our current civil forfeiture provisions, though a well intended tool for law enforcement, have eroded the constitutional rights of individuals. It is time we end the practice.”
Simpson has been vocal about his opposition to the law enforcement practice of taking property or cash officers suspect is used in, or gained by, criminal activity — particularly illegal drug sales.
He previously voiced his support for a pending bill that would require local agencies to more stringently report assets taken from people and whether those eventually were awarded to the state by a civil court.
Law enforcement broadly opposes changes to the law, to the extent that the sheriffs and county judges from Simpson’s Gregg-Upshur district flew to Austin in early December when the representative joined a panel discussing reforms to the civil asset forfeiture law.
Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, joined by Justices Lehrmann and Devine in a dissenting opinion in Zaher El-Ali v Texas said, “[C]ivil forfeiture, once focused on the illicit goodies of rich drug dealers, now disproportionately ensnares those least capable of protecting themselves, poor Texans who usually capitulate without a fight because mounting a defense is too costly.”
HB 3171 not only repeals civil asset forfeiture, it establishes criminal asset forfeiture so that the ill-gotten gains of convicted criminals may be taken after due process from drug dealers, cartels, and human trafficking rings while protecting “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…” provided in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
Representative Simpson stated, “Our constitutional restraints on government power are like fences; they keep the honest people honest. Where our fences of presumed innocence and due process have been torn down, we should rebuild them.”