Texas Civil Forfeiture
State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado
Ending “Policing for Profit” in Texas
IJ client Zaher El-Ali is challenging the state of Texas' right to seize his 2004 Chevrolet Silverado based on the fact that someone else drove the truck while intoxicated.
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Texas has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the nation, as demonstrated by an Institute for Justice report, Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture. Texas law establishes a trifecta of circumstances that invite forfeiture abuse. First, Texas allows law enforcement agencies to police for profit—to seize and sell property then return the proceeds directly into their budgets giving them a financial incentive to abuse this power. Second, Texas uses a “preponderance of the evidence” standard for determining whether a particular seizure is valid, rather than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for criminal defendants. Third, Texas places the burden on the innocent owner to prove his innocence.
Small businessman Zaher El-Ali, who goes by Ali, has lived in Houston for more than 30 years, and is in many ways a classic American immigrant success story. Ali struggled to get his Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck back from Harris County police and prosecutors for the better part of nine months. The pickup was seized by the police after they stopped the truck’s driver for driving while intoxicated. But the driver did not own the Silverado. The driver was making payments to purchase the truck from Ali, but had not finished paying for it. Ali retained title, and would like to get his truck back. But under Texas law, the burden is on the property owner, and, as Ali found out, it is very difficult to get your property back once it has been seized for civil forfeiture.
That is why he brought a counterclaim in the case of State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado to challenge Texas’ civil forfeiture statute as a violation of his constitutional rights. For the benefit of all Texans, Ali challenged the profit incentive that underlies civil forfeiture in the state. He also challenged the provision of the law that places the burden on owners to prove their innocence, rather than on the state to prove their guilt. The goal of Ali’s challenge was to help rebalance Texas law enforcement priorities, take the profit out of civil forfeiture, and protect innocent property owners caught up in an upside-down legal process that violates fundamental constitutional standards of due process.