Aided by unsolicited publicity from a presidential wisecrack, property rights conservatives in Texas are energized and mobilizing a full-scale campaign to reform or abolish an asset seizure law that they say tramples the rights of ordinary citizens entangled in the criminal justice system, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. Republican Sen. Konni Burton is at the forefront of efforts to reform or abolish civil asset forfeitures, which enable law enforcement to seize property in criminal investigations without first obtaining a conviction. Law enforcement groups are rallying to defend the practice as an integral crime-fighting tool. The issue was largely being played out on the legislative sidelines.
That changed last week when President Trump propelled the topic into the national spotlight at a Washington meeting with a group of sheriffs, including Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson. After the North Texas sheriff complained about an unnamed Texas senator who is seeking to reform the property seizure law, Trump responded by offering to “destroy” the lawmaker’s career. The remark was widely dismissed as an impromptu burst of Trumpian humor, but it cast attention on the issue back in Texas. Burton and other senators dismissed themselves as the target of Trump’s jab, but Burton quickly pivoted into a renewed push for her bill to require convictions before permitting the seizure of assets, a measure that law enforcement leaders said would effectively kill the practice. Civil asset forfeitures have long been in the crosshairs of conservative groups and think tanks, who say the practice the fundamental right of innocent until proved guilty. Noting that it can take years to get a conviction, prosecutors and law enforcement officials say that requiring convictions before seizing property would effectively demolish a crime-fighting weapon that has been used against organized crime and Mexican drug cartels.