Your Stuff is Our Stuff Now: An Overview of Civil and Criminal Asset Forfeiture

The law sometimes has a way of giving deceptively fancy names to fairly simple concepts. Asset forfeiture is a great example of this. It is a tool of law enforcement to further penalize those who have been enriched through illegal activity, but it all really boils down to: The government can take your stuff by arguing that you got it through the illegal activity.
The Basics
Asset forfeiture is a punishment available to both state and federal officials in the course of a prosecution. While criminal asset forfeiture targets the criminal defendants themselves, even individuals who are only remotely associated with the defendant and were associated in some small way with the crime can have their assets seized, too. This is done through civil asset forfeiture, whereby law enforcement can seize property from persons who have some alleged involvement without actually charging them with a crime or illegal activity.
These people’s only redress is to fight the government to get their property, which may have been seized improperly in the first place, returned to them. Those who are unsuccessful will see their assets likely given to the police or federal law enforcement. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of opposition to asset forfeiture laws.
How Florida Changed its Asset Forfeiture Laws
In Florida, the civil asset forfeiture laws were changed in 2016 to address this problem. The good news is that at least now under state law, law enforcement must actually arrest the suspect and charge them with a crime before they can begin the asset forfeiture process (although this does not apply to cash). The seizing agency must also pay a $1,000 filing fee to take the assets and post a $1,500 bond. Most importantly, seizure of any property will not become permanent until the seizing agency can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the assets are linked to a crime. However, local law enforcement can still escape the state law by teaming up with federal law enforcement, who have a loophole exception for civil asset forfeiture.
If you find yourself on the wrong end of civil asset forfeiture, your experience will depend a great deal on whether the forfeiture is being pursued by state or by federal law enforcement. If it is the former, then the new civil asset forfeiture laws will likely apply, meaning your property can only be permanently taken away if it is in fact linked beyond a reasonable doubt to a crime. Under the new law, it is easier to recover legal fees should you need to sue to get your property back. If it is seized by federal law enforcement, these protections may not be available.
Contact Us
Regardless, the first step in this process is to reach out to attorneys who are familiar with asset forfeiture as quickly as possible since there are deadlines by which certain actions must be taken to preserve your rights to your property. The attorneys at Weisberg Kainen Mark are very familiar with asset forfeiture and they understand that time is of the essence in these cases. We can advise you on your rights if you have had property seized and help you begin to try to get your property returned. Call our office today.

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Weisberg Kainen Mark, PL

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