Harris County Jury Rejects Legal Claims Challenging Constitutionality of Asset Forfeiture

Harris County Jury Rejects Legal Claims Challenging Constitutionality of Asset Forfeiture

Harris County jurors issued a stern rejection this week of claims by a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that challenged the way Harris County seizes assets from drug dealers and money launderers.

Jurors in the 281st District Civil Court rejected arguments by the Institute for Justice – a Libertarian law firm that challenges such established governmental programs as eminent domain and asset forfeiture – that law-enforcement officers here were seizing drug proceeds based on “suspicion,” rather than the required “probable cause.” After a weeklong trial, jurors took only four hours to overwhelmingly reject the baseless claims. Jurors specifically found that officers had probable cause to seize $41,680 that was intended to purchase illegal narcotics in Harris County in 2019.

Evidence showed that Ameal Woods had been paid to transport the money to Houston to purchase illegal narcotics and then transport the drugs back to Mississippi, where they could be sold for a profit of more than $70,000. The $41,680 in cash was concealed in two bundles of rubber-banded stacks of bills that had been vacuum-sealed four times and packaged with transmission fluid in an unsuccessful attempt to mask the smell of narcotics emanating from the money. The cash was then wrapped in electrical and duct tape.

Evidence also showed that Woods perjured himself under oath before and after the trial by testifying that some of the seized money was a loan from his niece – a claim Woods’ niece testified was untrue.

Angela Beavers, the chief prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office’s Asset Forfeiture Division, represented Harris County in the trial and said that the Institute for Justice failed to investigate Woods’ claims for more than two years after it accepted him as a client and continued to represent him even after being notified of his perjured statements. 

“The jury has spoken,” said Beavers. “Do not come to Houston intending to profit from illegal narcotics trafficking.”