Legal Feature


Justice Thomas' Opinion in Lisa Olivia Leonard v. Texas



March 10, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In refusing to hear a challenge to Texas’ asset forfeiture law, the U.S. Supreme Court is allowing Texas police to keep $201,000 in cash primarily on the basis that the seized cash—the proceeds of a home sale—was being transported on a highway associated with illegal drug trade, despite any proof of illegal activity by the owner. Asset forfeiture laws, which have come under intense scrutiny and criticism in recent years, allow the police to seize property “suspected” of being connected to criminal activity without having to prove the owner of the property is guilty of a criminal offense.

Lisa Leonard, the owner of the $201,000, had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to compel Texas to return her money, given that she was innocent of any crime. In a written opinion that denounced the profit incentives that drive asset forfeiture schemes, Justice Clarence Thomas concluded, “This system—where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use—has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.”