On July 1, a new law, known as Senate Bill 1044, went into effect in Florida. The law-signed by Gov. Rick Scott on April 1-places limits on civil forfeiture. Civil forfeiture funds are money or property that law enforcement seizes if it suspects these things were acquired through criminal activity, such as a drug crime. Property that is seized can include anything from cash and jewelry to homes and cars. Each department’s governing commission ultimately decides how the funds should be spent. Previously, under the old law, law enforcement only had to pay a $1,000 filing fee and demonstrate probable cause before seizing property. Authorities were able to seize property before even making an arrest or filing charges against the owner.
About the new law
The new law makes it necessary for an arrest to come before or coincide with any property being seized. The owner must be charged with a crime before authorities can seize property. Authorities must also be able to make a strong case “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the money or property was acquired illegally. Authorities that seize property have 10 days from that point to prove probable cause in court.
The law also raises the filing fee, and institutes a $1,500 bond on the property. The bond is payable to the claimant in the event that the forfeiture is unsuccessful. The goal of the bond is to provide individuals with compensation for their money and time spent trying to reclaim their property. Previously, individuals whose property was seized often could not afford to hire a lawyer. The bond can go toward the cost of the accused’s attorney fees should they win the case.
The new law is aimed at protecting property owners from wrongful seizures by increasing the burden on law enforcement to demonstrate probable cause and raising the financial costs of the process for law enforcement. The law comes at a time when this issue is gaining increasing attention at both a state and federal level. Other states have passed similar legislation seeking to reform civil forfeiture.
If you are under investigation or have been charged with a drug offense or other crime, it is important that you seek advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney who will protect your rights. The law office of Andrew M. Coffey, P.A. can work on your behalf to protect your rights and to secure the best possible outcome.