Police in Texas’s most populous county routinely ask drivers if they have cash in the car, only to seize the cash, accuse it of a crime, and drive away with it in their patrol car. Texas’s civil forfeiture law allows police and prosecutors to take cash from people they don’t arrest, and hand it over to prosecutors so that they can bend the power of Texas’s civil courts to keep the cash permanently in their own budgets. Forfeiture abuse in Texas is fueled by a perverse financial incentive: police and prosecutors can seize and forfeit cash from people, and that cash can then be used to fund salaries and overtime—their own paychecks. That kind of policing for profit isn’t just wrong; it’s unconstitutional.https://ij.org/case/texas-forfeiture-ii/
Ameal Woods and Jordan Davis got trapped by Harris County’s forfeiture racket and want their life savings back. To pursue the dream of owning their own trucking business, Ameal and Jordan saved money from jobs, tax refunds, and by keeping expenses low. They accumulated over $40,000, enough for Ameal to rise from truck driver to truck owner. On May 14, 2019, after weeks of scouring ads for used tractor-trailers, Ameal was ready to buy one of his own. He drove from Natchez, Mississippi, and headed towards Houston. But when he arrived in Harris County, police pulled Ameal over, took his cash, and sent him on his way without so much as a warning.
For the past two years, the couple heard nothing from Harris County due to the County’s feeble efforts to satisfy the most basic of constitutional requirements: notice. Who could afford to have their life savings taken away for more than two years with no hearing and no opportunity to go before a judge? Over that time, others like Ameal and Jordan also lost their cash to police, and County prosecutors used Texas’s civil courts, not criminal courts, to keep the cash permanently.
Harris County has an unconstitutional financial incentive to seize and forfeit cash and other property without probable cause and to do so excessively, sweeping in innocent people and property. Its practice of using form affidavits, vague allegations, and tough tactics instead of evidence of crimes also violates the Texas Constitution. That is why Ameal and Jordan have teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a major class-action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Harris County’s civil forfeiture program.
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