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Texas Police Seized Man’s Life Savings, Now The State Is Putting His Cash On Trial

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Ameal woods, a trucking company owner from Houston, set out for Houston in the month of May 2019. He wanted to expand his business by buying a second tractor trailer. Woods’ family had saved up more than $40,000. As he drove through Harris County in May 2019, he saw red and blue lights behind him.

Woods was accused by a sheriff’s deputy of following a vehicle too closely. Woods didn’t get a ticket but the deputy did take his money.

The state of Texas will be taking Woods to court this week to ensure that he never receives his life savings.

Ameal Woods in front of semi truck

Joseph Tully, a criminal defense lawyer, told Fox News that “anytime you give law enforcement a financial incentive to take money, they’ll be more likely to do it, regardless of whether there is felony or not.”

Tully was not involved in Woods’s case but commented on its legal implications.

Woods’s money was seized by a deputy in a civil asset forfeiture process. The purpose of civil asset forfeiture is to punish criminal activity and discourage it by denying criminals property they have used or acquired illegally. Critics say that police and prosecutors abuse the law and treat anyone carrying a large sum of cash as guilty.

Woods was not arrested, cited, or ticketed for any crime, according to the lawyers of the Institute for Justice.

State of Texas v. $41,680.00 begins Monday in Harris County, four years and one-day after the seizure.

Civil asset forfeiture does not require a criminal conviction. Tully explained that the government only needs to prove that seized property was connected to criminal activity.

He said that it was fair to describe this as legal theft, and that courts can seize money from criminals convicted for crimes by requiring them pay restitution.

The state claims that there was probable reason to seize the money and that it was either obtained from committing a criminal act or was intended to be used for a criminal act, such as money laundering or drug dealing.

Woods, who was stopped by the deputy, wrote in court papers that he “was acting nervous and uncomfortable, displaying signs such as labored breath” during the stop. He also stated that he did not know the exact amount of cash he had on him when asked. The money was stored in two duct taped bundles.

The deputy had written at one time, “I am beginning to believe Woods is involved in criminal activities, especially money laundering,” adding later that Woods may be “involved with the transport of money related to drug trafficking”.

The deputy told Woods that he had left him a case number, as well as a phone number, to contact if he wished to try and claim the money.

According to the Institute for Justice, Woods’ situation is not unique. Police in Texas’ largest county routinely ask drivers whether they have money in their vehicles. The money that police officers seize is kept by the department.

Tully explained that “in the Harris County case the money went straight to the budgets for the sheriffs’ department and district attorney’s offices.” “You have prosecutors, and law enforcement that both profit personally from this money.”

The nonprofit law firm stated that at least 113 civil forfeiture cases filed by county prosecutors in the past two years are “based on an affidavit form written by an official who was not present when the seizure took place.”

Tully stated that “policing for profit” is a serious problem. “We know that absolute power corrupts completely.

Tully said that the Institute for Justice had successfully challenged civil forfeiture in other jurisdictions. The nonprofit law firm assisted a New Orleans grandmother reclaim $28,000 that was seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

An attorney representing the state didn’t immediately respond to Monday’s request for comment.

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