A Texas appeals court ruled Tuesday that the state’s “civil restitution” law is unconstitutional because it violates the rights of victims and the rights to free speech and due process.
In a 2-1 decision, the Texas Supreme Court said the state can’t deny the right to a criminal defendant to receive monetary compensation for damages caused by civil lawsuits brought by victims of civil violations.
The case is the latest blow to Texas’ civil forfeiture laws, which critics say unfairly target poor and minority communities.
The appeals court also found the law does not apply to private businesses, but it’s unclear whether that’s the case in this case.
The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors.
The state’s law allows civil defendants to recover up to $10,000 for every dollar paid to the defendant.
Victims who file lawsuits often pay thousands of dollars to attorneys, as they have to.
But in this lawsuit, the plaintiffs said they received only $100 in restitution, and their attorneys have said the money should be refunded.
The Supreme Court decision is the second major legal challenge to the law in a year, following an appeals court ruling last year that the law violates the First Amendment rights of defendants and their rights to freedom of speech and association.
The ruling does not mean that the Texas civil restitution law is completely constitutional, said David Cole, a University of Houston law professor who has authored a book about the law.
But it’s an important first step, he said.
The law is also being challenged in federal court, and that could take years to resolve, Cole said.
In Texas, the civil restitution statute was originally passed in 2007 to help recover property forfeited by law enforcement officers during drug raids.
Under the law, property can be forfeited to state or local agencies for any reason, including drug-related crimes.
But critics have said it is an abuse of power and an attack on the property rights of innocent people.
The cases brought by the plaintiffs include wrongful death lawsuits filed by former officers, as well as claims that police officers who were charged with crimes had their cases dismissed.
They include a lawsuit filed by two brothers who were killed in 2009 when police officers opened fire on a crowd of people who were protesting the death of their uncle, Eric Garner, a New York City police officer.