1. What is Civil Asset Forfeiture?

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool that allows law enforcement to take your private property used or intended to be used in committing certain crimes.  The goal of civil asset forfeiture is to deprive criminal organizations of access to certain tools that they need to commit crimes, such as the money used to fund crimes.  Another goal is to discourage future crimes by taking away the profits from those crimes. However, civil asset forfeiture is sometimes used to take property from innocent property owners for the benefit of the law enforcement agency.

To permanently take property from its owner, the law enforcement agency must go to court. To keep the property, the agency needs a court order known as a "judgment," sometimes referred to as a “judgment of forfeiture.”  To get a judgment of forfeiture, an attorney for the law enforcement agency must bring (and win) a forfeiture lawsuit in State court.  The lawsuit by the State will be a civil case (not a criminal case). The case will be filed against the property (not against the owner of the property).

Civil asset forfeiture is governed by Texas and federal law.  The law most often used to support forfeiture of property in Texas can be found in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, under Title 1, Chapter 59.

In our example, the lawsuit brought by the State would be called “State v. $900 Cash” (instead of “State v. Carter”).  The difference between the State filing against your property and the State filing against you is important, as discussed in Question 9.