You can defend yourself from civil asset forfeiture under Florida law. A good lawyer can help you understand what is happening and take steps to protect yourself.
When Is Seizure Legal?
Luckily, there have been some recent changes in Florida forfeiture law that make the conditions under which property can be seized more strict. After July 1, 2016, property can only be seized if the owner has been arrested for a criminal offense and there is reasonable evidence that the property is contraband.
Exceptions to this new law include the right to seizure and forfeiture if the owner of the property cannot be identified or found after a proper search has been conducted, if the owner is deceased or “on the run” from the law, or if the property has been identified as stolen and the actual owner had awareness of the criminal activity. Property can also be seized if the owner becomes a confidential informant or if the property is an instrument for monetary transactions.
If the Federal Government Florida State police are attempting to seize your personal property, the first thing that you need to do is contact a lawyer who has experience in fighting asset forfeiture. The process can be very tricky, and a lawyer will make sure that you are doing everything you can to defend yourself. There are two situations in particular that you should be aware of if you are facing asset seizure:
- The seizing officers may attempt to persuade the person whose property is being seized to sign a “Settlement Agreement and Release.” Watch out for this: signing this agreement waives all of your rights to the property, and puts them in the hands to the city or county agency.
- If your vehicle has been seized in the Tampa Bay area, it is common for LEOs to try and hold your vehicle through what is known as an “investigative hold.” Such a hold will require you to pay $25 a day in fees, and holds can be indefinite. If this happens to you, you can file a complaint in the County Court where the vehicle is being held if it is being held for improper reasons. You also have rights regarding your towed car under Florida Statute Section 713.78.
The Adversarial Preliminary Hearing: Your First Line of Defense
If your property is seized, you will be provided with a letter, also known as a “Notice of Seizure of Personal Property.” In addition to the letter, you will receive a document explaining your Right to Adversarial Preliminary Hearing. You must file your request for such a hearing with 15 days of receiving the letter. This is why it is imperative that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible after your property has been seized. The Adverse Preliminary Hearing is one of the most dependable and quickest ways to retrieve your property and maintain your rights as its owner; waiting to file for a hearing puts you at risk of losing your rights and your property.
In order to file for an adversarial preliminary hearing, you must send a written request via certified mail. Be sure to request a written receipt so that you can be certain your request was received. When the agency responsible receives your request, their representative lawyer will set a date for the hearing that is within 10 days of when they received the request. This is why it is so important to contact a lawyer early on–waiting could mean that you will not be able to get one in time.