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Florida's new civil asset forfeiture law could be a game-changer

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A police procedure that has generated considerable criticism among not just criminal defense advocates, but the general public is civil asset forfeiture. Indeed, a recent survey conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance determined that as many as 84 percent of registered voters here in Florida had serious concerns about the practice.

For those somewhat unfamiliar with this term, civil asset forfeiture is a policy whereby law enforcement agencies are legally permitted to seize personal property and/or cash that they merely believe is somehow connected to criminal activity. 

Indeed, this absence of the need for a conviction, an arrest or any sort of proof that the property is connected to actual criminal activity has lead many critics to call the practice nothing more than "policing for profit," as the department that seizes the items are allowed to retain them.

If you don't believe it, consider that statistics from Florida's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability found that local law enforcement agencies have taken in a minimum of $68 million in seized assets over the last five fiscal years.    

While states across the U.S. have enacted reforms designed to try to limit the scope of civil asset forfeiture, critics say they've fail to go far enough.   

As it turns out, these same critics are now looking to the Sunshine State as an example of what can and perhaps should be done to rein in the practice.

Earlier this month, Governor Rick Scott signed a measure into law that will require the following as it relates to civil asset forfeiture starting in July:

  • Law enforcement agencies looking to seize property (houses, jewelry, vehicles, etc.) will first have to make an arrest, and, subsequent to this arrest, they will have to pay a filing fee of $1,000 and post a $1,500 bond (to be paid to the property owner in the event they're found innocent).
  • Law enforcement agencies looking to seize cash won't be required to make an arrest, but will nevertheless be required to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that it is linked to a crime in a court of law.
  • Law enforcement agencies will be required to submit periodic reports to the state detailing how many assets they've seized and how the money they bring in is being spent.
  • Law enforcement agencies that take in over $15,000 in civil asset forfeitures in a year will have to contribute at least 25 percent of proceeds to education initiatives, drug treatment or crime prevention programs.

Here's hoping this law results in real changes here in Florida and across the nation.  

If you've been charged with any sort of felony or misdemeanor, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible as your freedom and your future may be at stake.

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