Fred’s Client Has Case Dismissed, Cash and Dodge Challenger are Returned
It’s not every day that you get a client’s case dismissed along with the return of a Dodge Challenger and $8,000 in cash.
Fred Stangl’s client was arrested for Possession of THC, a second degree felony in Texas, which carries a possible prison term of up to 20 years. The cops seized his 2017 Dodge Challenger and $8,000 in cash.
The prosecutor rejected the criminal case, and today, Fred recovered the Challenger, all the cash and returned everything to the client! His client was very happy and presented Fred with a bottle of Don Julio 1942 tequila. A celebration well deserved!
Civil Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases
Getting charged with a drug crime in Texas is often a felony even for small amounts and first time offenders. If convicted, sentencing leads to fines and jail time. However, one of the least understood consequences is civil asset forfeiture or the possession of money and property by law enforcement. It commonly occurs with drug charges for several reasons:
Law enforcement can argue that vehicles have been or were used to actively distribute and traffic drugs.
Large assets from cars to homes can be seized if believed to be paid for with drug money.
Personal property from drug paraphernalia to weapons, even cell phones and computers can be seized during a drug raid/arrest and even a routine traffic stop.
Large to small amounts of cash can be seized, whether on the defendant, in the car or home. Often under the ruse that a large amount of cash is for money laundering.
Credit cards and bank accounts can be frozen, even bitcoin can be seized with a warrant or probable cause.
Seizure of property can happen simply if police believe it can lead to a future drug crime.
Seventeen states now require a criminal charge for assets to be seized, but Texas is not one of them. When defendants charged with a crime have cases dismissed or end in acquittal, property is not immediately returned. In fact, property is likely to be permanently forfeited and if legally allowed, can be sold and used to fund law enforcement. This process can happen within 30 days after seizure.
Texas does have an innocent owner defense, but a property owner must prove innocence in a civil asset forfeiture case. Unlike criminal court, a public defender is not provided and court costs are the burden of the property owner. A further hassle is a civil asset forfeiture case must happen in the county where property was seized.
Avoiding Civil Asset Forfeiture and a Return of Property
If you are stopped by police, understand your fourth and fifth amendment rights. If pulled over, do not consent to a search of your vehicle. While police can physically search a cell phone or computer, they will be unable to unlock or view data stored on the device. If police have a K-9 unit with them during your stop, they can only search the outside perimeter of the vehicle without consent.
You further have the right to remain silent and avoid incriminating yourself. Finally, comply with officer commands and do not resist arrest.
A warrant or probable cause that a crime has happened, is in process or is about to happen will be needed for law enforcement to continue a search and seizure. These actions will provide more ammunition for a civil asset forfeiture and potentially prevent criminal charges.
If you have experienced wrongful forfeiture of property in Texas, there is some hope. The controversial practice is getting greater scrutiny and leading to public backlash. The Texas Tribune conducted in depth research on search, seizure and forfeiture throughout Texas.
There are recent house bills introduced in Texas to reform civil asset forfeiture. Several Supreme Court cases have further narrowed how police obtain warrants, search and seize property.
However, understand that if you do nothing, your property will not be returned and is often sold to fund the police. We understand it is a hassle to defend your right to property. Chappell Lanehart & Stangl are experienced in civil asset forfeiture cases in Lubbock and across the Panhandle.
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Whether you were charged in Lubbock, the panhandle or elsewhere in Texas, our law firm is taking on new clients and happy to provide legal advice.