This is the latest attempt by the legislature to reform civil asset forfeiture laws in the state. Last year, a similar bill passed the House but was never voted on in the Senate. Another bill introduced last year was intended to ensure police officers had adequate training when it came to seizing property. A third bill would have put local forfeiture processes under the domain of state law, making asset forfeiture consistent across the state.
Some reforms have passed, however. In 2016, the governor signed into law a bill that dropped the requirement for citizens to pay 10 percent of the value of their property as a bond if they wanted to challenge a seizure in court. In 2015, the standard of proof needed to process a forfeiture was increased from “a preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” While this is an improvement, it still falls short of the standard of proof required in a criminal case which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
These reforms come at the same time as several high-profile forfeiture cases have made the news. Last year, I reported on the seizure of Stephen Nichols’ car which was seized in Lincoln Park near Detroit back in 2015. He is still fighting for its return. His case has been in legal limbo for years.
Ryan Chappell was stopped in 2016 returning home from a medical marijuana dispensary. Police seized his Jeep without giving a reason. Shortly before Chappell and his lawyer were to attend a hearing which would compel the police to give the reason they took his car, law enforcement returned Chappell his Jeep. They also dropped all towing and storage fees.
“Ain’t nothing you can do,” said Chappell’s father at the time. “The police are like gangsters. They just take what they want.”
The new bill would require a criminal conviction before police can take permanent possession of or sell seized property as long as that property is worth less than $50,000.
“I don’t think anybody should lose their property until they’re actually convicted of something,” explained Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake). “I think that’s the essence of this particular bill.”
The bill was sponsored by Pete Lucido (R-Shelby Township) who says the $50,000 limit was a compromise to make sure law enforcement agencies were on board with the bill. They have raised concerns about similar reforms in the past.
“They [law enforcement] believe that anybody that’s having $50,000 cumulative would be called a mule,” said Lucido. “I don’t necessarily agree all the way, but you know, a start is a start, and the direction is right.”
Referring to civil asset forfeiture reform, State Attorney General Dana Nessel said she “conceptually supports” attempts to “strengthen due process rights for everyone.”
The bill passed through the Senate with bipartisan support in a 36-2 vote. The House will now vote on the bill. Last year’s bill passed the House in an 83-26 vote. Lawmakers believe Governor Gretchen Whitmer will sign the legislation into law if it makes it to her desk.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.