If you are a victim of civil asset forfeiture, contact us!
What are your rights when the "Law" takes your stuff?
Before we go into the question, let's start off with a little background. Florida and every other state in the nation has a law on the books to civilly seize someone's assets if they can link that asset to the commission of a crime. The image in a lot of people's heads is that of a Lear jet carrying bundles of cocaine and landing in a rural airport with no passengers. That makes sense because it is very apparent that the "trafficking of cocaine" would only be possible if it were being flown from Colombia to the USA on that Lear jet and the amount of cocaine on the jet would be indicative of the whole crew knowing and conspiring to import cocaine. Obviously, the drugs are seized as part of the criminal case and the local law enforcement agency MAY seize the Lear jet as a "civil forfeiture."
For years the civil forfeiture proceeding was a tough legal hearing to beat and often the only time you were able to win it, was by showing that there was an innocent owner. The innocent owner exclusion from forfeiture meant that they had no clue, idea, or premonition that the pilots (to continue our example) flew down to Colombia to buy drugs and were going to import them. This is the one sure-fire way to win the hearing.
So, now that we understand the general dynamics of the concept, we can further discuss how the law evolved. If you scroll the news feeds you might have even seen this from Justice Clarence Thomas, where he is quoted:
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. According to one nationally publicized report, for example, police in the town of Tenaha, Texas, regularly seized the property of out-of-town drivers passing through and collaborated with the district attorney to coerce them into signing waivers of their property rights. In one case, local officials threatened to file unsubstantiated felony charges against a Latino driver and his girlfriend and to place their children in foster care unless they signed a waiver. In another, they seized a black plant worker’s car and all his property (including cash he planned to use for dental work), jailed him for a night, forced him to sign away his property, and then released him on the side of the road without a phone or money. He was forced to walk to a Wal-Mart, where he borrowed a stranger’s phone to call his mother, who had to rent a car to pick him up. These forfeiture operations frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings. Perversely, these same groups are often the most burdened by forfeiture. They are more likely to use cash than alternative forms of payment, like credit cards, which may be less susceptible to forfeiture. And they are more likely to suffer in their daily lives while they litigate for the return of a critical item of property, such as a car or a home.
Read more at: https://www.nationalreview.com/article/448942/civil-asset-forfeiture-police-abuse-clarence-thomas
Fortunately, Florida was never one of the top abusers of forfeiture, but when a Supreme Court Justice mentions that the system needs to be redesigned, that's exactly what happened in the legislative session of 2016.
There are now more protections for your seized items.
The law changed substantially in 2016 to give the asset owner great protections. Most importantly, the law now requires the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your belongings were used in the commission of a crime.
If this is happening to you, please contact our firm. We have the legal knowledge and experience to fight for your property!