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The Fundamentals of Civil Asset Forfeiture in Florida

Over no more than a dozen years, police and various federal agencies have taken more than $20 billion from everyday citizens. Many different groups of all types, including the ACLU and the CATO Institute, have protested these policies. In fact, Florida law enforcement personnel have recently seized a hoard of Bitcoin worth $1.9 million dollars.

We are Florida defense attorneys, and we want you to understand this divisive issue.

What is Civil Forfeiture?

Civil forfeiture is a legal process, where police seize assets from people who are suspected of committing a crime. In everyday speech, this means that law enforcement officers can take your money or property if they think you have done something against the law.

In civil forfeiture, the property itself is believed to be connected to the crime. Authorities must prove that property or money was obtained as profit in a crime or was an instrument in an unlawful act.

It is important to keep in mind that you do not have to be convicted of a crime to have your property taken. According to the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, law enforcement must have ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ that someone has committed a crime. While this standard is higher than it is in many other states, you may not have your moment in court before the police grab your property.

Basically, someone has to criminally charge a suspect before they take their car.

Under the new Equitable Sharing Program, local police can keep up to 80% of the money that they seize. Critics of this law have pointed out that this provides an incentive for police to just take money. In Bal Harbour, law enforcement officers took nearly 50 million dollars in three years. No arrests were made, and the Department of Justice made the Bal Harbour Police Department return some of the cash. Still, many problems persist.

Florida Civil Forfeiture Laws

Florida has tried to curtail some of the more extreme uses of civil forfeiture in the state. In our state, the police must:

  • Be able to prove that the seizure was lawful, before a court
  • Review forfeiture settlements
  • Not let employment or salary be based on quotas
  • Train officers on seizure and forfeiture
  • Donate some of what they took if it is over $15,000

The police departments which do not comply with the law may see a fine of up to $5,000. They may seize more than $5,000, meaning that they have little reason not to take money in some instances.

Despite these protections, abuses still occur. The police do go after criminals, but the innocent get caught in the net. Even people who have committed crimes have property rights.

What to Do if You Have Had Assets Seized by Police

It can be incredibly frustrating if police have taken some of your property. You may feel tempted to lash out and act on your anger. When dealing with law enforcement, you never want to lose your cool.

Try not to say too much. The police know how to get confessions out of people, even if they have not done anything wrong. Law enforcement can and will use anything that you say against you.

It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer. They can fight for you, to make sure that you are being treated fairly by police. A good attorney can make all the difference in the world.

The Berman Law Group is ready to help you out. We are practical, proficient, and prepared to take on your case. Call us today at (800) 883-5206.