Civil Forfeiture and DWI in Texas

The issue of civil forfeiture laws continues to get national and local coverage on a consistent basis. They have been described by many as a legal form of theft by the government, but efforts to have them scaled back or overturned have been futile. One thing Texans should be aware of is the likelihood of losing a vehicle or other property in connection with a DWI.

The reasons for the coverage of this issue and the controversy it inspires are varied. Among them are the fact that enforcing the transfer of personal property to the state does not require a guilty verdict on criminal charges. In most cases, there simply needs to be an accusation that the property owner committed a crime and that the property was part of the commission.

Another chief complaint with the civil forfeiture laws in Texas and elsewhere is the incredulous quantities of money and property that gets condemned year after year. According to reported statistics from as recently as 2013, Texas, along with the federal government, took in over $100 million in forfeited private property. Where does that money go?

The property and cash that is seized by either local or federal government goes straight to the police agencies and offices that bring the charges. Obviously, there is a clear conflict of interest when a police department’s budget relies, in part, on the property it can transfer from citizens to its coffers. Police jobs, equipment, and other necessities rely on taking private property associated with a criminal investigation.

Can I Lose Property in a DWI Case?

Texas law only allows for civil forfeiture for certain crimes, mostly felonies. But a person can lose a car or truck after getting a DWI if it is the third or subsequent DWI a person is charged with, or a felony DWI such as manslaughter or DWI with child. In fact, this is exactly what happened to a man who lost his truck when he was not even the person charged with DWI.

In 2009 a man driving a truck in Houston was arrested, charged, and convicted of his third DWI. As part of the prosecution he was forced to forfeit the truck he was driving when arrested. The problem was that the title to the truck was actually in the name of another man who was taking payments on it. No matter, the state continued with the civil forfeiture proceedings to get the truck.

Imagine if this was you and the state wanted to take your truck when you were not even accused of a crime. He had to hire an attorney, go through the expense of a lengthy litigation, and eventually lost his argument on appeal. The Texas Supreme Court in that case simply stated that the issue of an innocent property owner who entrusts their property to someone who commits a crime and then suffers civil forfeiture was already resolved in 1957.

What to Do if Charged With DWI

There is a lot at stake if you or a loved one is charged with DWI. Civil forfeiture of your vehicle and other monetary considerations is just a part of that. You are also facing jail or prison time, loss of driving privileges, and a record that will follow you wherever you go. If you are facing DWI charges, contact us today. At the Wilder DWI Defense Firm we will work with you to put on the best defense available to you.