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Getting Your Property Back from Law Enforcement

Other Criminal Record & Traffic Issues

This article provides information on civil asset forfeiture, which can let law enforcement take private property used or intended to be used in committing certain crimes.

This article is excerpted from Civil Asset Forfeiture on the website of Texas Appleseed. It is a starting point for learning:

  • What is civil asset forfeiture?
  • Who keeps the assets once forfeited?
  • How do you get your property back?

What is civil asset forfeiture?

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool that allows law enforcement to take 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 crime. 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, serving no purpose but to benefit law enforcement.

Visit Texas Appleseed's website to watch videos about civil asset forfeiture in general and the court process.

What protections do I have if my property is seized?

If the seizing agency is a local or State police force, that agency must submit paperwork to a local District Attorney in the county where the property was taken and ask the District Attorney to file a lawsuit for the agency to keep the property permanently. This lawsuit is called a forfeiture lawsuit and is brought in the name of the State, against the property.  

Once the State files a forfeiture lawsuit, you will need to defend against the lawsuit to try to get your property back. If you choose to do nothing, your seized property will be automatically forfeited through a “default judgment.” See Question 38 and Question 39 ( Click the Link )  for more information on default judgments.

If the seizing agency is a federal agency (such as the FBI, DEA, or IRS), that agency must inform you of the seizure and any next steps you can take to attempt to acquire your property.

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