Civil Forfeiture in the Pensacola, Gulf Breeze, Milton & Navarre areas
There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about the government’s ability to seize people’s money, cars, and other property when they are arrested for certain felonies in Florida – i.e. Civil Forfeiture. Under Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act if the government can prove that property was used in the commission of a felony, was the profit from a felony crime, or was used to conceal the commission of a felony crime, then the government can take your stuff. Believe it or not, being caught with just one Xanax pill while driving your car could lead to the government being able to seize and forfeit your vehicle.
Yes, I know it’s crazy.
There is a system to fight this sort of taking by the government, but it is time sensitive. When the government seizes your property they must provide you with written notice that they are intending on commencing forfeiture proceedings and taking your property. This notice must also tell you that you have right to request an adversarial preliminary hearing. Typically this notice will be a piece of paper they give you at the time you are arrested. Within fifteen (15) days of you getting that piece of paper you have to send a letter to the seizing agency demanding an adversarial preliminary hearing. That letter must be mailed by certified mail, return receipt requested. Once the law enforcement agency receives your demand for a hearing they will have ten (10) days to get it heard by a judge. It is important to challenge them and move for dismissal of the forfeiture if they don’t get you in front of a judge within the 10 days. There is good case law in Florida stating that when an agency waits until the eighth or ninth day to ask for a hearing, which cannot be heard by a judge before the tenth day, it is on them, they should have acted sooner, the case should be thrown out, and the property returned.
After the adversarial hearing is over the property will either be released to you (because you won the first stage) or it will be kept for the time being by law enforcement (you lost the first stage). At this point they will have to file a lawsuit and the case will proceed like a regular civil lawsuit. This process will involve interrogatories, requests for production, discovery, and motions. Ultimately, you have the right to a trial by jury on a forfeiture case.
As you can see this process can be technical and time consuming, meaning a lawyer can be very useful. Oftentimes a lawyer can strike a deal with the law enforcement agency to get some of your stuff back, rather than them having to go through this whole process. If you have received a forfeiture notice and the police took your money or car, contact my office to discuss whether you have a case to challenge the forfeiture and get your stuff back.