What is asset forfeiture law in Florida?

What is asset forfeiture law in Florida?

Bryant A. Scriven
 | 
The state of Florida has one of the broadest asset forfeiture laws in the country.

The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act allows law enforcement officers to seize and forfeit property it believes to be connected to a violation of Florida law.

What's different about Florida versus other states is this - there is no requirement that a person ever be convicted of or even charged with a crime before having their property seized. 

What is contraband?
When most people think of contraband they think of firearms or illegal drugs; however, broadly speaking, contraband can be any item the state of Florida can establish probable cause that a relationship exists between the alleged contraband and the commission of a criminal offense.

So, in addition to firearms and illegal drugs, contraband often includes many items not inherently illegal such as U.S. currency, automobiles, boats, and even real property.

How does one violate the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act?

The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act is most often triggered when a person is arrested for a criminal offense.

For example, the driver of a motorcycle who attempts to flee from a traffic stop, may ultimately have that motorcycle seized upon an arrest for Fleeing or Attempting to Elude a law enforcement Officer in violation of Florida Statutes 316.1935. Likewise, a person arrested for possessing illegal drugs in the trunk of their car, faces the possibility of having that car seized for violating Florida Statutes Ch. 893 prohibition against possession of certain controlled substances.

However, there are instances where a person is not arrested or charged with a crime, yet their property is still considered contraband and seized.

Such was the case for Oscar Holguin who was stopped for speeding on Interstate 95 in Miami, Florida by a Florida Highway Patrol trooper back in 2004. Mr. Holguin consented to a search of his vehicle which revealed a bag containing approximately $18,000 in cash. A drug sniffing dog alerted to the cash indicating that the currency had been in the presence of marijuana.

The Highway Patrol seized the cash and the court upheld the seizure finding that the agency had probable cause to seize the money and maintain a forfeiture action even though no drugs were found in the driver’s possession or vehicle and Mr. Holguin was not charged with a crime.

What happens once my property is seized?
The actual forfeiture proceedings in Florida are a two-step process.

The first stage of the process, the seizure stage, focuses on the property itself and whether there exists probable cause to believe that the property was used in violation of the Act (to conceal, transport, or possess contraband). Florida Statutes Section 932.703 includes a right to an adversary preliminary hearing upon request. The owner of the seized contraband may request an adversarial preliminary hearing within 15 days after receiving such notice of the seizure. In this initial hearing, the court may review any sworn affidavits or other documents as well as hear testimony to determine whether there exists probable cause that the property was used, is being used, was attempted to be used, or was intended to be used in violation of the Act. If probable cause is established, the court will authorize the seizure or continued seizure of the subject contraband. 

At the second stage, the forfeiture stage, the seizing agency must not only prove that the property was in fact being used for an illegal purpose, it must also prove that the owner or owners knew or should have known that the property was being used or was likely to be used for an illegal purpose. In this second stage, the owner of the property is entitled to have the ultimate issue of forfeiture decided by a jury.

During the jury trial. the state must establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the contraband article was being used in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, If this is proven, then the court will order the seized property forfeited to the seizing law enforcement agency. The final order of forfeiture by the court gives lawful title to the law enforcement agency subject only to the rights and interests of bona fide lienholders.

Once assets or contraband are seized or forfeited, the seizing agency will typically either retain the property for their own use or sell the property at a public auction.


This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
Bryant A. Scriven

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