Asset Forfeiture In Florida Drug Cases
Both federal law and Florida state law permit a practice known as civil asset forfeiture (in some other jurisdictions, criminal asset forfeiture is legal, but not in Florida). However, civil asset forfeiture has come under fire in recent years, as countless police departments have been caught in scandal surrounding unfairly appropriated assets like cash and vehicles. This is especially true in drug cases, where countless pieces of property have been seized due to alleged connections with drug activity – yet the connections were never proved in court.
Drug Defendants Face Disproportionate Asset Forfeitures
On paper, civil asset forfeiture is an admirable enterprise, seizing property like vehicles or real estate that has played a role in illegal activity. However, Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act (FCFA) as written is very broad, allowing seizure of everything from vehicles and real property, to controlled substances, gambling implements, down to untaxed motor oil. The law as written essentially permits any real or personal property used to commit a felony to be seized – but no guidance is established as to how to establish that the property was used in such a way.
Some law enforcement departments have used such broad civil asset forfeiture laws to enrich themselves unjustly. Departments like Bal Harbour and Sunrise have faced federal oversight in the past, particularly for harassing drug defendants solely for the purpose of seizing their property. Florida did reform its asset forfeiture laws in 2016 to make such unethical behavior from law enforcement more difficult – but unfortunately, many drug defendants wind up unable to recover their property, even though they may have a right to do so.
You Can Fight For Your Property
What many people do not understand about civil asset forfeiture is that since it is civil, it is not tied to the person facing criminal charges; rather, it is tied to the property itself. Criminal asset forfeiture – which is illegal in Florida – can only happen if someone is convicted of a crime, but civil asset forfeiture does not require that. If your property is seized, you are required by law to receive a Notice of Seizure, which in turn advises you of your right to request a hearing to seek the return of your property. At the hearing, the issue will be whether or not there is probable cause to retain your property.
If there is, the next steps are discovery (essentially, sharing documents and evidence between the sides) and trial, unless a settlement is reached. If your case does get to trial, you need an attorney who understands civil asset forfeiture in tandem with any criminal charges you may be facing. If you prevail, you not only get your property back, but you may also be awarded costs and attorney’s fees.
Call A West Palm Beach Drug Crimes Attorney
Because drug crimes are taken so seriously in Florida, law enforcement will take any possible opportunity to seize property that may be relevant to the case – or, unfortunately, for unethical reasons. If you suspect that this has happened to you, contacting a West Palm Beach drug crimes attorney from the firm of Perlet, Shiner, Melchiorre & Walsh, P.A. can be your first step toward getting your property back, and handling any criminal charges against you. Call our offices today to speak to an attorney.