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Florida Legislators Look at Overhaul of Civil Forfeiture Process

One often-neglected aspect of criminal investigations – and one that can cause serious financial harm and mental anxiety for the parties involved – is the seizure and forfeiture of a person’s property and assets. Here is how the process typically works in Florida and elsewhere: Law enforcement officers begin a criminal investigation and identify both a person and certain “things” that might be involved in the crime. These “things” may include:

  • Cash or other valuables;
  • Homes;
  • Cars or boats;
  • Weapons; or
  • Other valuable items.

As part of their investigation, officers collect the property they believe has been used in the commission or furtherance of a crime regardless of whether the property belongs to the suspect. Then, through the process of civil forfeiture, the owner of the property is essentially declared to have “forfeit” the seized property. Law enforcement obtains ownership over the property and sells or auctions it, keeping the proceeds of the sale for themselves. Using the civil forfeiture process, a number of agencies from around the country have been able to become quite wealthy.

Unfairness in the Civil Forfeiture Process

Civil forfeiture statutes in Florida and around the country have come under fire in recent years because of the apparent and obvious unfairness in the process. Although the property owner has an opportunity to challenge the forfeiture before it occurs, once the government has shown a connection between some crime and the property in question, the burden is on the property owner to show that one of only a few limited exceptions apply that entitle them to retain their property. A person’s property can be declared forfeit even if the property owner is never charged with a crime or even declared to be a suspect in a criminal investigation.

To combat this, Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes and other legislators are rallying behind a bill that would amend the state’s civil forfeiture process to require: (1) that a property owner be charged with a crime before that particular item of property could be seized by law enforcement; and (2) that a property owner be convicted of the charged crime before his or her private property could be forfeited to law enforcement.

Police departments who have been the obvious beneficiaries of lax civil forfeiture laws are (understandably) opposed to such overhaul proposals.

Comprehensive Florida Criminal Defense Representation

When you are charged with a crime – or even if you are merely a “person of interest” in a criminal investigation – law enforcement may seize and attempt to have your property forfeited. Aside from the mental anguish and anxiety criminal charges themselves can bring, civil forfeiture can leave you penniless – even if you are ultimately cleared of any suspicion of wrongdoing! Count on the experienced and dedicated South Florida legal team of Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. to provide you with comprehensive legal advice and representation to help you preserve your freedom and your property. Jeffrey S. Weiner fights vigorously to protect his clients’ rights against government overreach and unfair practices. Contact his office today to discuss your circumstances: you can call (305) 670-9919 or contact his office through the firm’s website.

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