Across the United States, the practice of asset forfeiture, a procedure under which law enforcement can seize a person’s assets if they are accused of being involved in illegal activity, has come under increasing scrutiny. Here in Florida, these laws were particularly powerful, allowing police to take assets from people never arrested or sometimes never even accused of a crime. These laws have accordingly merited some strong opposition, especially since only 1% of the $117 million worth of assets taken by police in the last five years was actually taken from people who went to trial for a crime related to the property and money taken. Now the Florida legislature is moving to reform these laws for good.

The Florida Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee has combined two proposed civil asset forfeiture bills brought to the Legislature and approved the final language of a bill to hopefully see a vote. The proposed bill would require an arrest to be made before police were empowered to take someone’s property, and they would only be allowed to keep it if the person were convicted of a crime. In addition, more transparency would be required, as all assets seized would now have to be reported—a practice currently not required of law enforcement. The bill still has to be approved by two other subcommittees before the full legislature will see it, but the sponsors are hopeful that Florida will see these reforms put in action this year.

How Will Civil Asset Forfeiture Affect People Like Me?

The current Florida asset forfeiture laws were intended to keep criminals from keeping the proceeds of their crimes—and to fund prisons using kingpins’ money. Unfortunately, this practice has increasingly grown in recent years, and people never formally accused of a crime can lose money unless they can definitively prove money or assets were legally obtained, which means average citizens, especially minorities, can lose their property without cause. If passed, this law would protect against this practice, ensuring that only the guilty were punished, as is required under our Constitution.

While these laws have been protested by some law enforcement groups and agencies who claim that this change will allow criminals to get away with their crimes, many argue that this small risk is outweighed by the good inherent in protecting the innocent. Although it may be a while before any bill sees a vote, civil forfeiture reforms remain in the works, and increasing numbers of representatives have come out in support of changes. Hopefully we should see exactly which changes will happen very soon.

In the meantime, anyone can find themselves losing property through asset forfeiture proceedings. It can be incredibly challenging to recover these assets, even if you are innocent of any crime. If you are hoping to recover your hard-earned property—or are facing charges for a crime — and need legal support, call the experienced Sarasota criminal defense lawyer Erika Valcarcel at Erika Valcarcel, Criminal Defense Lawyer, P.A. today at (941) 363-7900 to see how we may be able to help. You are always able to get a free consultation on your case to find out exactly what your options may be.

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