Civil Asset Forfeiture

IJ Files Asset Forfeiture Suit in Texas


As part of its new campaign against abusive asset forfeiture policies, the Institute for Justice has filed a lawsuit in Texas, home to some of the worst forfeiture laws in the country. From the press release:

…law enforcement agencies in Texas and many other states get to keep the cash and other assets that they seize giving them a direct financial incentive to abuse this power and the rights of property owners.  In Texas, forfeiture funds can even go to pay police salaries.  This establishes a perverse incentive structure under which the more property police seize, the nicer their facilities, equipment and automobiles—and the bigger their personal paychecks.

And the better their office margaritas.

Civil asset forfeiture policies rest on the legal absurdity that property can be guilty of a crime. IJ's client in the case is Zaher El-Ali, an immigrant and 30-year resident of Houston who makes his living restoring and reselling homes and cars. Here's his story:

In 2004, Ali sold a 2004 Chevrolet Silverado truck to a man who paid him $500 down and agreed to pay the rest on credit.  As with all cars bought on credit, Ali held the title to the car until he was paid in full and also registered the car in his name.  In July 2009, the buyer was driving the Silverado and was pursued by a police officer on suspicion of drunk driving.  When stopped by the police, he was arrested for DWI.  Because this was his third DWI arrest, he was imprisoned, pled guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison.

After the man's arrest, the Silverado was seized for civil forfeiture.  It has been sitting in the Harris County impound lot ever since.  In July 2009, Ali wrote to the district attorney, telling him of his interest in the truck and attaching copies of the title and registration naming Ali as the owner and asking for its return.  The driver has been in jail since July and had stopped making payments.  The government responded by filing a civil forfeiture action against the truck:  State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado.  Through the filing of counterclaims in the case, Ali wants not only to get his truck back but also to stop the state from abusing forfeiture law against all Texas citizens.

My Reason feature on asset foreiture here. Here's video of IJ attorneys announcing the lawsuit:

NEXT: A Pot of Money to Piss On

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  1. Keep voting republican. Perhaps we can have the laws all over america.

    1. Because the Dems have done so much to stop this kind of abuse and would never let it slide to get cozy with the police unions.

      1. What you said, Enyap.

  2. Aha! This time I won’t read the article and ruin my weekend!

    Oh, I can’t help myself…and of course it’s depressing. Except IJ and Mr. El-Ali are fighting back. Good on ’em.

    And, as always, thank you Mr. Balko for keeping these issues in the forefront. Even on a Friday…

  3. Maybe this will teach you not to sell a vehicle to a drunk driver.

    1. And for not predicting the future. What do you mean you didn’t know that the guy, five years from when you sold him the truck, would drive drunk? Take the truck away!!

      1. Anyone selling a car (privately or via dealership) should be able to contact the DMV to find out if the buyer has previous DUI/DWI infractions.

        It makes as much sense as a credit check.

        1. You need to refine your trolling.

  4. Step one: find a sympathetic defendant owner of the defendant. Check.

  5. The Chevy was going to defend itself pro se, but remembered the maxim, “A pick-up truck that represents itself has a fool for a client.”

    1. I knew a Mercedes that represented itself and won.

      1. that german engineering is remarkable…

      2. Typical Germams.

    2. I dunno, i feel like that maxim need sjust one more auto reference.

      tool instead of fool maybe? Something about a tailgate that wont stay latched? Someone call the BlueCollarComedy guys.

  6. As someone who lives near the Houston area I sure hope the IJ and Mr. El-Ali win. Unfortunately I doubt they will. Civil asset forfeiture policies in this state are just legalised government theft.

  7. Crap, I’d already reached my donation limit for the year. I guess it just got raised $100, because I can’t not donate to IJ after they take this on…

    1. There’s a donation limit? Or do you mean self-imposed limit?

      1. *cough* “my donation limit” *cough*

  8. texas is a great place to live in many respects, but the police culture down here is the glaring exception.It’s the worst of the good old boy system backed up with guns.

  9. Hmmm… an immigrant with a terrorist name doesn’t make a good test case, no matter how convenient the fact pattern. Asset forfeiture only matters when it happens to white grammaws in Indiana.

    1. “…a terrorist with an immigrant name…”


      (it’s texas man, he’s soooo dead or guantanamo bound. no offense to the decent texas!)

  10. I’d also like some one to explain to me exactly how filing suit against an inanimate object is not de facto abuse of the legal system. How in the hell can you come up with the pretzel logic justifying it requires?

    Law school really does make you lawyer types think like sociopaths.

    1. I think they justify it as evidence of or proceeds from a crime, which it isn’t.

      1. Thank you Modern Marvels:….._Coca-Cola

        Who cares how the fuck legal scumbags justify the shit they do. There ought to be an amendment or something that says court cases are only brought against people or organizations.

      2. In other words, the part in the fourth amendment about seizure.

  11. So if you have sex in your car, does that automatically make it a three way?

    1. No, but if your car is less than 18 years old, it’s contributing to the delinquency of a minor and your car will be taken by the state and placed in a better home.

    2. It’s more than meets the eye.

      1. “oh, man, i bet bumblebee has something to say about that”…and then i saw the handle….

        I’m slow, wanna fight-a-bout-it?

  12. Civil asset forfeiture policies rest on the legal absurdity that property can be guilty of a crime.

    And on the pretense that taking someone’s property isn’t a punishment that can’t be inflicted without due process.

    Marry this up with the health insurance mandate, and you’ll have the assets of people who are suspected of not buying health insurance seized on the same principle as the assets of people suspected of dealing drugs. Hey, maybe health insurance reform will be self-financing. For awhile.

  13. Question for the legal eagles – Since the property is be treated as a defacto person, is there any way to file a writ of habeas corpus on it’s behalf?

    1. Of course not, domo. Its a person, except when it isn’t. And its not a person, except when it is.

      Leave this to the professionals. Please.

      1. You are making me want to kick someone in the ribs while they whimper and bleed.

      2. In fact, I’m heading back over the pot thread to relax.

      3. So an object can be guilty of a crime, even without due process, but a corporation can’t have free speech. Got it.

        1. My rational engineering brain just can’t comprehend this kind of shit, and my (recovering) lawyer wife just looks at me and shrugs. The law is neither rational nor just. It just is what it is, which is means incomprehensible to non-lawyers.

      4. “”Of course not, domo. Its a person, except when it isn’t. And its not a person, except when it is.””

        That’s it in a nutshell. I think it would be funny if a jugde asked the prosecution if the item charged had the capacity to understand the charges against it.

  14. When he gave evidence the car was his he took a big chance that the state might decide to go after the rest of his assets as an owner of a vehicle used in a crime.

  15. And here is a prime example of police action that should NOT be allowed, ever, under any circumstances.

  16. If I understand this correctly, Texas’ asset forfeiture law places the state first in line ahead of properly registered creditors?

    1. No. You see, this isn’t about a lien on the vehicle.

      It’s about the truck having committed a crime and the truck getting punished by being taken away from it’s owner (who, you must understand it not being punished in any way that would invoke due process, of my heavens, no!).

      Really. It says so right on the label.

      1. Ordinarily, taking property from its owner has no effect on a creditor’s right to repossess the collateral.

        1. “Ordinarily” this is called “theft”.

          … Hobbit

          1. True, but inapposite to my point.

    2. Which can make the whole forfeiture thing doubly suck, since, IIANM loss of the collateral does not absolve the debtor of the obligation to repay.

      1. It sure makes it hard to enforce the debtor’s obligation to pay, though.

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