Criminal Asset Forfeiture

Criminal Asset ForfeiturePeople under investigation for criminal activity in Florida often face significant legal consequences they may not anticipate. While most state residents know that criminal convictions can lead to fines or incarceration, many are unaware that their personal property may be seized under criminal asset forfeiture practices. This has been a contentious practice in Florida for decades, and recent legislation might make it possible to prevent this profitable policing tactic from being used in some cases. 

Grounds for Criminal Asset Forfeiture in Florida

The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability reported that local and state law enforcement agencies seized a combined total of over $266 million in assets from Floridians in 2018. This staggering amount is the highest in the nation and highlights the issue of policing for profit, which can financially cripple the lives of those convicted, as well as their families.

The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act regulates asset forfeiture in the state. Unlike federal law, Florida does not have criminal forfeiture regulations, instead relying on civil asset forfeiture procedures. Complicating this further is that local cities like Tampa have their own forfeiture rules in place. Fortunately, recent legislative changes have increased the criminal burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that prosecutors must achieve to convict you.

If an individual possesses property related to an alleged crime or gains it from illegal activities, their assets may be subject to Florida criminal asset forfeiture practices. Types of property that may be seized could include:

  • Money, currency, monetary instruments, securities
  • Motor vehicles, aircraft, marine vessels
  • Real property used to commit a felony
  • Personal property used to commit a felony
  • Any controlled substance
  • Gambling paraphernalia
  • Equipment used to violate beverage or tobacco laws
  • Motor fuel when the motor fuel tax has not been paid

Criminal forfeiture should only occur if a person is convicted of a crime and if the property’s connection to that crime is proven. 

Federal Forfeiture Proceedings

If you are facing federal criminal charges, you should also be aware of federal asset forfeiture. If local authorities collaborated with federal law enforcement during your case, you may be subject to federal asset forfeiture laws. This allows Florida law enforcement to circumvent the higher burden of proof established in 2016 and could subject you to unwarranted criminal asset forfeiture. 

Regardless of which government agency has charged you with a crime, you need to hire an experienced Orlando criminal defense attorney familiar with this complicated area of law. Your freedom and financial future depend on their specialized training to challenge the authorities and prevent them from profiting off your legitimately earned assets.

Supreme Court Impact on Criminal Asset Forfeiture

In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that authorities cannot seize property that was not used in the commission of a crime or procured as a result of such activities. The ruling involved a case where an Indiana man had his Land Rover seized after being caught selling heroin. The vehicle had not been purchased out of the proceeds earned from his drug trafficking but had been legally purchased using life insurance money he received after his father died. 

In an attempt to get his vehicle returned, the man sued the police, but the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the seizure, saying it did not violate the Eighth Amendment. The court felt that the imposition of excessive fines on citizens did not apply because it was a state action. 

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with this finding and instead determined that state actions like seizing a $47,000 Land Rover are subject to the amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines. This finding has reform advocates across the country, including Florida Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, encouraging further reform and state law enforcement scrambling to reassess their current criminal asset seizure methods.

In recent years since Florida reformed part of its asset seizure laws, cases like Miami-Dade police having to return illegally seized guns and nearly $20,000 in cash to a stripper after a traffic stop has given hope that reform may be possible.

Protect Your Rights and Your Property with a Highly Skilled Orlando Attorney

When police perform searches and find large amounts of cash, weapons, or over-the-counter medications, they may attempt to seize your rightfully owned property under probable cause laws. These attempts to circumvent new legislation to put an end to profitable policing tactics can be challenging to overcome and require an attorney with extensive knowledge of state, federal, and Constitutional law. 

Speak with a top-ranking Orlando criminal defense attorney right away to prevent law enforcement from taking your rightfully owned property using criminal asset forfeiture. Our firm offers over 100 years of combined criminal defense experience. At The Umansky Law Firm, we have a track record of successfully defending our clients from abusive policing practices. 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.