The Gas Pipe defendants, a father-daughter duo of shopkeepers who were accused of trafficking synthetic cannabis products (also known as "spice") were recently acquitted in a court of law. We've followed their story in our blog before.
Now, in a new chapter, the father-daughter team has to defend their property and vast holdings -- including millions of dollars in their bank accounts, private planes and a fishing camp -- against the government's attempts to use asset forfeiture laws against them. The government is claiming the right to seize their property under laws that widely allow law enforcement agencies to simply take whatever property they believe is either used in or a proceed of the drug trade.
The two owners were convicted of lesser offenses in their earlier trial, including the conspiracy to defraud the United States through their process of rebranding the synthetic cannabis they sold in their shop under new labels as things like bath salts, incense and potpourri. They were acquitted, however, of nine counts of drug trafficking -- which is the only offense that pertains to asset forfeiture laws.
Essentially, the government is arguing that it has the right to take everything the Gas Pipe's owners have made in the last 50 years of business due to drug trafficking charges that it failed to prove in court. Even worse: The government may win.
An asset forfeiture trial will play out in civil court -- not criminal court. In criminal court, the standard of proof in order for the government to make its case is very high. Juries have to be convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt." In civil court, the jury only has to believe that the government is "more likely than not" correct -- a thin 51 percent margin is enough for a win, from the government's perspective.
Asset forfeiture laws are just one of the many things that give prosecutors an upper hand in drug trials. By depriving defendants of their assets, they can essentially deprive them of a high-powered defense and pressure them into signing a plea deal -- even if they aren't guilty.
If you're facing drug charges in Texas, don't face them alone. Your future may depend on your defense.