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Governor Signs New Forfeiture Bill Into Law

A new bill signed into law by Governor Rick Scott recently provides additional protections to property owners against overzealous law enforcement forfeiture actions. In a forfeiture action, government officers (law enforcement officers and prosecutors) use the court system to declare property they believe is connected in some way with criminal activity to be “forfeit.” Doing so allows title to the property to pass to the government which then promptly sells the property for profit or converts it to law enforcement use. The new law signed by Gov. Scott now makes this process more difficult for government agents.

How Forfeiture Worked in the Past

In the past, forfeiture was a civil matter that did not require proof of any criminal wrongdoing at all in order to succeed. In fact, all that was required was a belief on the part of law enforcement agents and prosecutors that the property in question was somehow connected to criminal activity. The property owner had a very limited ability to challenge the forfeiture action – even if the property owner did not know of his or her property being used in an allegedly criminal manner, the property could still be forfeited.

For example, Dan’s friend Jan asks to borrow his car for the weekend and Dan allows Jan to do so. While driving, Jan is stopped and drugs are discovered inside Jan’s purse. Law enforcement officers could move to forfeit Dan’s car, claiming that it was used to advance or assist in the commission of criminal activity. The burden would have been on Dan to provide a legal reason why his car should not be forfeited. If he failed to do so, the government could forfeit the car, sell it, and retain the proceeds. The fact that neither Dan nor Jan were ultimately charged with criminal activity would have made no difference in this situation.

New Bill Provides Protection for Property Owners

Under the new law (which may govern the actions of both federal and state officers acting within Florida while investigating Florida crimes), property owners would need to be arrested for a crime before the government would be permitted to move to forfeit the property. Thus, in the situation above involving Dan and Jan, law enforcement officers and prosecutors would not be able to move to forfeit Dan’s car absent arresting him in connection with Jan’s criminal activity. If they could not bring charges against Dan because there is no evidence he knew that Jan was in possession of drugs or intended to assist her in any way.

South Florida criminal defense lawyer Jeffrey S. Weiner is committed to vigorously defending his clients’ rights and using the law to achieve superior results for his clients. If the government is threatening to seize your property and declare it forfeited, you need experienced defense counsel right away. Thanks to this new law, you may have additional grounds upon which to fight the forfeiture and keep your property. Contact Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. today to discuss your situation by calling (305) 670-9919 or contact the firm online to schedule your initial consultation.

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