It appears that rather than fill the public coffers or pay off any public debts, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has decided to use nearly half a million dollars procured through asset forfeitures to pay for new breath-testing equipment. The way asset forfeitures work goes like this: Say that you get arrested and at the time of your arrest you happen to have a little cash in your pocket. Well, the District Attorney’s Office alleges that the cash you had was used to commit a crime, or was the ill-gotten gains of some nefarious activity, and files a lawsuit against you in order to permanently confiscate the money. And it isn’t just cash, they can file on you for practically anything that happened to be in your possession when you were arrested, including your car, your jewelry, or anything else of value. You have a right to contest the confiscation of your property, but it might cost you a pretty penny in lawyers’ fees, or a percentage of the cash that was taken from you, and there is no guarantee you will ever get it back.
Well, today the District Attorney declared that the monies they have confiscated will be invested in more breath-alcohol testing machines for the Houston Police Department. This is puzzling because the last time I checked, Harris County has the following financial problems:
1. The Harris County Public Libraries are currently underfunded and have been forced to operate at reduced hours. Moreover, some libraries in the Houston Public Library system have been shuttered entirely due to budget shortfalls. Apparently, making sure that motorists do not have a .08 or greater breath-alcohol concentration is more important than teaching children to read and promoting adult literacy.
2. Last year, the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County (MHMRA) suffered a 10% budget cut due to shortfalls. For those of you who don’t know, MHMRA is the agency that is responsible for providing mental health care services to Houston’s poor and needy. In many cases, poor people with mental health problems either land in jail, or remain impoverished because they cannot cope with their issues. Apparently, making sure that people have less than a .08 BAC is more important than improving the lives of the mentally ill.
3. The Houston Public School System has been forced to lay off teachers and other employees, and increase class sizes due to budget cuts. Apparently, providing our young people with a quality education is less important that making sure that motorists are alcohol free.
4. Last year Harris County laid off 1, 137 people. The layoffs were spread-out so that no one department was affected to heavily, but the layoffs mean a lot to those who lost their jobs. And apparently, their jobs are not as important as new equipment to test the BAC of Houston motorists.
These are but four examples of the many ways that budgetary shortfalls have affected Harris County, and, to be fair, a half a million dollars is not enough money to fix any one of them. But any family that has ever had to pinch pennies knows that every little bit helps, and you have to prioritize the things that are the most important. Apparently, the District Attorney’s Office feels that breath-testing motorists is more important than any of the problems I have listed.
Feel free to post comments to this article describing what you think would be the best use of a half a million dollars in public money. And as always, if you or a loved one has been accused of a crime in Harris County, call the Law Office of The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp for a free consultation. It is important to secure qualified and competent representation to defend your rights.