In Florida, Major Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature
Florida is a signature away from passing one of the most comprehensive civil asset forfeiture bills in the country. SB 1044, which recently passed unanimously out of the Florida House and Senate, will strengthen property rights for Floridians as well as provide much needed reporting of the extent of asset forfeiture in the Sunshine State.
For those unaware, civil asset forfeiture is the process by which law enforcement may seize and forfeit your property if they suspect it has been involved in criminal activity or the fruits of illegal activity. In most states, there is no requirement that an individual be arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime for law enforcement to forfeit your property. Additionally, most states have very low burdens for law enforcement to prove (more likely than not) that the property is involved in certain criminal activity. The practice has come under fire due to countless examples of abuse. Specifically, the bill:
- Specifies generally that a seizure of an individual’s assets may occur only if the property owner is arrested (although there are some exceptions such as when the property owner cannot be identified or knew of the criminal activity)
- Requires that the law enforcement agency who seizes the property must apply to the court to determine whether probable cause existed to seize the property
- Requires law enforcement to pay a $1,000 filing fee and deposit a $1,500 bond, which is payable to the property owner if they prevail
- Increases the burden prosecutors must prove from clear and convincing (roughly 75 percent certain) to beyond reasonable doubt (roughly 95%)
- Requires at least 25 percent of proceeds must be donated to certain programs
- Requires reporting by law enforcement agencies regarding assets civilly forfeited. Specifically, law enforcement must, for each case state the approximate value, court case number, type of disposition of property received, and amount of proceeds received or expended
Right on Crime Signatory Sal Nuzzo, Vice President of Policy at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Florida issued the following statement on SB 1044’s passage:
“Civil asset forfeiture reform has been a top priority for The James Madison Institute and we are truly pleased that the Florida Legislature has seen to pass a very good policy that balances the need for reform while addressing the concerns of the law enforcement community,” said Nuzzo. “Requiring an arrest for a property seizure just makes common sense. We are also especially thrilled with the provisions in the new policy that direct local law enforcement officials to collect more substantive data on seizures, which will allow organizations such as JMI to conduct more analysis in future years, and be able to help determine if additional reforms are needed. We commend both the House and Senate leadership for their roles in making this reform a reality.”
We echo the sentiments of Mr. Nuzzo and urge Governor Scott to sign this important piece of legislation that each elected Delegate and Senator approved.