Civil Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset ForfeitureState and federal forfeiture laws allow law enforcement to seize private property that was allegedly used in connection with or was obtained using proceeds from the commission of an alleged crime. Civil forfeiture laws frequently allow government agencies to seize and sell personal property without any regard for the innocence of the property owner.

Many people have little knowledge about forfeiture laws, making an already difficult process even more confusing. Government agencies will send property owners a notice of seizure following any seizure actions. These owners only have a limited amount of time to respond and try to reclaim their property.

Property Subject to Forfeiture in Orlando

The types of property subject to forfeiture vary from case to case, depending on the alleged criminal offense or how the property was used or obtained. Some of the assets most commonly seized by government agencies include, but are not limited to:

  • Bank accounts
  • Cash
  • Computers
  • Controlled substances
  • Firearms or weapons
  • Jewelry
  • Real estate
  • Smuggled goods
  • Vehicles
  • Other tools or instruments allegedly used in the commission of a crime.

Civil forfeiture is independent of criminal cases where property is seized before or even without the property owner being arrested.

Orlando Asset Forfeiture Defenses

People may have one of several possible claims that may allow them to regain property seized by a government agency. Some defenses may be applicable concerning certain forfeiture statutes.

A few successful defenses in these cases include but are not limited to:

Innocent Owner

People who did not know or consent to their property being used in the commission of a criminal offense can be entitled to regain that property. 

Lack of Notice 

Property owners can win cases if they did not receive sufficient notice or the government delayed too long in filing forfeiture cases.

Illegal Seizure

Forfeitures that occur without probable cause or using evidence obtained in violation of a property owner’s Fourth Amendment rights typically leaves the government unable to prove its case.

Disproportionate Forfeiture

The United States Supreme Court has ruled on multiple occasions that forfeiture is subject to the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment.

State Legislative Changes to Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture in Florida

In March of 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott approved a bill created to reform current civil asset forfeiture practices statewide. The passage of this legislation was a bipartisan effort and received unanimous approval by both chambers of government. The intention is to curb what is known as “policing for profit” in Florida.

These changes included:

  • Stipulating that non-monetary property can only be seized if a person has been arrested for a criminal offense. Previously, seizures could be made even in the absence of an arrest or formal charges.
  • Requiring a court to review whether there was reasonable cause for the forfeiture within ten days. Seized property must be released within five days if such cause is lacking.
  • Demanding proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the property was involved in illegal activity. Before, the burden of proof was lower; authorities only had to show clear and convincing evidence.

The legislation also included guidance intended to discourage meritless seizures. This was accomplished by requiring authorities to pay a filing fee and a bond that goes to the property owner if the forfeiture is deemed unnecessary. While this was a tremendous step in the right direction to protect the rights of Floridians from abusive seizures by law enforcement, some loopholes still allow baseless forfeitures of property to continue.

Currently, state authorities can still seize the personal property of those suspected of committing crimes by collaborating with federal agencies, which do not have the same burden of evidence required to do so. This has led to over $266 million in seizures taking place since 2018 alone, according to a study by The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.  

Do Not Let Policing for Profit Trample Your Rights in Central Florida

If you or a loved one is the target of a frivolous civil asset forfeiture action in Central Florida, speak with a skilled Orlando criminal defense attorney right away. These matters are complex and difficult to challenge, often requiring legal defense strategies that address known loopholes that authorities use to take property unlawfully.

Speak with the top-ranking Orlando criminal defense attorneys of The Umansky Law Firm to learn how to fight this abuse and prevent the financial devastation that could follow. Our firm provides aggressive defense services with a track record of success against seizure actions. As former Florida state prosecutors and recognized members of Florida Trend’s Legal Elite, we know how to recognize these incidents and mount an aggressive defense to put a stop to them. Call (407) 228-3838 or contact us today for a free case evaluation.