Proposed law could impact war on drugs

Proposed law could impact war on drugs

(WTVM) - A pick-up truck, two cars and an SUV are all up for the highest bidder online by the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

The four vehicles were seized from drug dealers.  We've seen it happen time and time again, thousands of dollars worth of property and cash taken away from the owner after selling drugs or gambling.

But now, the State's Civil Forfeiture Law is subject to change with House Bill 1.  Authored by Republican Representative Wendell Willard of Sandy Springs, Willard says he wants to help protect innocent parties, not criminals.

According to the law, property is seized based on the preponderance of the evidence. The new bill would raise the burden of proof to clear and convincing evidence.

Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley says the new potential bill would make it harder for law enforcement officers to seize property, thus jeopardizing the proceeds that help agencies fight the war on drugs.

"They don't stay in jail long, by the time they make it through the court system, they've already spent one year in jail and when you consider the 2 for 1 law, they are paroled shortly after arriving in prison," Jolley said.  "So, it's the only way we can send the message to the community and to kids about fighting drug crimes."

The Harris County Department gets $40,000 to $60,000 a year in drug forfeitures, used mainly to support drug programs such as DARE, officer training and to purchase equipment.

Jolley fears HB 1 will eliminate those opportunities, thrusting the financial burden onto taxpayers.

No word on when the House will vote on the issue.

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