Law enforcement forfeitures are on the rise across the country. Cops see forfeiture as an easy way to enhance their bottom line, or to pick up some toys that they can’t otherwise get approved in their budgets. And in many State’s, the agency that does the forfeited often gets to keep the majority of the property seized, which sadly can incentivize some law enforcement agencies to be too aggressive in their seizure policies. The more they grab, the more they get to keep, and that’s a recipe for abuse of the system, especially because it is difficult to for people to fight the forfeitures. We’ve talked about the risk of abuse before on Crimcourts. John Oliver recently did a great take on the issue on “This Week, Tonight,” which is worth the 15 minutes to watch.
However, it is not impossible to fight a forfeiture. You have a right to challenge a forfeiture in court, and should talk to an experienced attorney right away. Cops will attempt a forfeiture even when the evidence doesn’t support it. They will claim a suspicion that a crime is being committed, based on their ‘training and experience’, and presumptively seize the property. However, a hunch isn’t enough to prove the case in court. The must demonstrate criminal activity by a preponderance of the evidence, and convince a jury of it. If the cops do try to seize your property, you should definitely exercise your right to fight the forfeiture.
Florida actually provides several different stages of challenging a forfeiture, and there are time considerations, which mean you should retain an attorney to help you as soon as possible. First, there are several technical filing requirements the state must follow before a forfeiture will be granted. The person who’s property is being seized has a right to a preliminary hearing, that means if they state is holding your property, they must demonstrate to a court why they should be permitted to hold it. And finally, the person has a right to make them prove their case to a jury at trial, and all of the defenses available on a criminal charge can be argued, as well as some particular to seizure cases. It can be a long, arduous process, but one that may be fruitful to follow through on.
If your property has been seized, you should contact me or another expereinced attorney right away.