Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Proposed in Florida

Published January 20, 2016

Lawmakers in the Florida House of Representatives and Senate have introduced bills that would require local and state law enforcement agencies to obtain a criminal conviction before the government can confiscate an individual’s cash or property.

Currently, Florida law enforcement agencies can use a process called civil asset forfeiture to seize private assets and property believed to have been used in the commission of a crime.

State Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres), sponsor of House Bill 883, says the more people learn about civil asset forfeiture, the more they demand change.

“You start hearing examples of regular people that aren’t doing anything more than driving on a suspended license having assets seized,” Caldwell said. “There is a large incongruity there between what everyone, myself included, assumed was going on and what this has apparently become over the last several years.”

‘Pretty Straightforward’ Reforms

Caldwell says the bill makes commonsense reforms to the state’s criminal justice laws.

“It is pretty straightforward,” Caldwell said. “At the end of the day, if you seize someone’s asset, you’re not going to be able to take final title of that asset as a law enforcement agency until you have actually convicted a person of a crime. In the meantime, you have to at least charge that person and be pursuing a case against them in order to keep it. If you can’t do that within five days, the bill would require that you return the asset to the person, and that is a pretty big departure from the status quo.

“The goal is to guarantee due process rights are recognized, and I think the bill, as drafted, brings due process back to the civil asset forfeiture process,” Caldwell said.

Policing for Profit

Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute, says civil asset forfeiture is big business for police departments in Florida.

“Civil asset forfeiture is a serious problem in Florida,” Nuzzo said. “In Florida, a person doesn’t even need to be accused of a crime or arrested to have their property seized. Law enforcement is not even required to report forfeitures. Over the past five years, law enforcement has seized more than $117 million.”

Nuzzo says lawmakers should answer to the desires and needs of taxpayers, not government law enforcement agencies.

“The burden should be completely on law enforcement in this policy, and sadly, it isn’t,” Nuzzo said. “The concerns of law enforcement should never be placed ahead of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

Matt Hurley ([email protected]) writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.

Internet Info:

Annemarie Bridy, “Carpe Omnia: Civil Forfeiture in the War on Drugs and the War on Piracy,” Arizona State Law Journal: