What To Know About Asset Forfeiture In Florida
Civil asset forfeiture may occur in combination with a criminal case, when law enforcement takes property that was allegedly used in relation to criminal activity. Unlike many other states, Florida does not have criminal forfeiture. However, takings under the civil forfeiture process are held to a criminal standard of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt.
Under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, the State can seize “any personal property” if a “nexus” can be proven between the item and the alleged illegal activity. Some common examples of property that can be forfeited under the Act include:
- Controlled substances that are possessed illegally or intended to be sold;
- Property and money associated with illegal gambling;
- Money or any form of currency connected with any other illegal activity;
- Equipment used to violate beverage or tobacco laws;
- Personal property and any vehicles, aircraft, or watercraft associated with criminal acts
Each year, over $60 million worth of contraband property is seized by Florida law enforcement officers. After a seizure takes place, the seizing law enforcement agency must identify and provide notice to owners, business entities, or lienholders that have interest in the property.
From there, defendant property owners are entitled to an adversarial preliminary hearing to determine whether probable cause exists that the property is associated with criminal activity. Critically, the defendant property owner must request a hearing in writing and send it by certified mail within 15 days of receiving the Notice of Seizure. If not, their right to the hearing will be waived and they risk losing their property permanently.
If no probable cause exists at the preliminary hearing, the property must be released back to the owner. Otherwise, the matter will be scheduled for a forfeiture proceeding in which a final determination is made. At this stage, law enforcement must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the property in question is directly connected to criminal activity.
What to Do if Your Property Has Been Seized by Law Enforcement
Florida citizens have important rights during a civil asset forfeiture matter. Safeguards exist even after property is in the hands of law enforcement, but individuals must assert their rights and utilize all available procedures. These include preliminary hearings and formal forfeiture proceedings. While law enforcement agencies bear a high burden of proof, it is always to your advantage to have experienced legal counsel at your side.
Law enforcement will frequently take property that has no provable connection to a crime. Or they may miss critical deadlines and violate your procedural rights during the forfeiture process. Our Florida Tampa forfeiture proceedings attorneys will carefully evaluate the facts of your case and protect your rights at all stages.
Call Our Tampa Forfeiture Proceedings Lawyers Today
It is essential to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney that knows the ins and outs of Florida’s asset forfeiture process. Our attorneys have years of experience in this area and know the techniques law enforcement will use to take and keep property in many cases. We also know our legal rights in this situation, and how to use forfeiture procedures to your advantage. Don’t hesitate to contact our criminal defense attorneys at Trombley & Hanes in Tampa today.