Asset Forfeiture

Florida Governor Signs Bill Requiring Actual Criminal Charges Before Seizing Property

Important reform to reduce asset forfeiture abuse

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Gov. Rick Scott
Source: State of Florida

Some great news in asset forfeiture reform is coming out of Florida. S.B. 1044, approved by the legislature earlier in the month, was signed into law today by Gov. Rick Scott.

The big deal with this particular reform is that, in most cases, Florida police will actually have to arrest and charge a person with a crime before attempting to seize and keep their money and property under the state's asset forfeiture laws. One of the major ways asset forfeiture gets abused is that it is frequently a "civil", not criminal, process where police and prosecutors are able to take property without even charging somebody with a crime, let alone convicting them. This is how police are, for example, able to snatch cash from cars they've pulled over and claim they suspect the money was going to be used for drug trafficking without actually finding any drugs.

Florida's new law will make this a bit harder. From Florida Politics:

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, sponsored the measure, which was supported from both sides of the political spectrum….

"Florida is once again taking a leadership role in the defense of private property rights, and other states should look to our work and enact similar reforms to protect the rights of their residents," Brandes said.

Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, also celebrated Friday's signing.

"The notion that police officers can take cash or other property from people never charged with any criminal wrongdoing and keeping any profits from the sale of seized property doesn't sit well with the public," he said. "Voters want action on civil asset forfeiture and it was smart politics for Gov. Scott to sign off on this."

That's good news for civil asset forfeiture reformers in the wake of the bad news earlier in the week that the Department of Justice has restarted its federal "equitable sharing" asset forfeiture program that allows law enforcement agencies to partner with the federal government and then keep a huge chunk of what they seize. Police departments often use this program to attempt to bypass restrictions their states put in place that either establish tougher rules for seizures or reduce how much money or property police are allowed to keep.

In Florida's case, the law is written so that a property seizure may only take place if the owner of the property is arrested for a crime for which said property would be described as "contraband." That appears to put in place restrictions that would avoid a federal bypass.

Read more about the law from the Institute of Justice here.

NEXT: Ronald Bailey Speaking at Florida Gulf Coast University on Saturday

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  1. EVERY TIME THEY GIVE US SOMETHING NICE, WE KNOW THEY’RE JUST GONNA TAKE IT AWAY AGAIN.

    Someone had to say it.

    1. Indeed. I look forward to the SCOTUS decision overturning this law as a violation of the due process rights of police departments to seize and hold property unless and until the former owner proves that it shouldn’t have been taken.

      POLICE RIGHTS MATTER!

  2. Florida Man can now keep his meth money. Sweet.

    1. Oh god, how on earth will these poor innocent police departments maintain their budgets? They need this money from those free exchanges of goods or there will be chaos in the streets! We must do something! Won’t someone please think about the children!!!

  3. To me this is like the warrantless wiretapping and phone tracking. They take it completely off the deep end and are outright committing crimes. Then when there’s an outcry the (eventually) walk the policy back to a nice and orderly process where the government must first be required to get the government’s permission, before robbing and spying on us. Yay I guess.

  4. My cousin has gone soft on crime. THIS IS WHAT EXPOSURE TO YOU WEAK MAMMALS DOES TO US

  5. April fools I bet. You’re clever reason!

  6. Rick Scott does something that I don’t objectively hate, and that isn’t a gift to one of his cronies? This must be an April Fool’s joke.

  7. in most cases, Florida police will actually have to arrest and charge a person with a crime before attempting to seize and keep their money and property

    Baby steps?

    1. In MOST cases?

  8. In Florida’s case, the law is written so that a property seizure may only take place if the owner of the property is arrested for a crime for which said property would be described as “contraband.” That appears to put in place restrictions that would avoid a federal bypass.

    “Appears”? Seriously? If the law says it in clear-as-day unequivocably unmistakable black-and-white “thou shalt not” they still find a way around it, so if it’s already right from the get-go something that merely “appears” to be, it’s not. This isn’t even going to slow down asset forfeiture by one thin dime is my guess.

    1. A thin dime appears to be counterfeit, and hence, contraband.

  9. Is this scenario possible under the Act:

    “OK, normally we wouldn’t bring charges in this BS case, but it’s the only way to seize the property we want. We’ll just let the prosecutor dismiss the charges later, after we’ve grabbed the loot.”

    1. I mean, the article says nothing about how you need to be *convicted* before they take your property, just that you have to be *charged.* Which is fairly easy to arrange.

      1. RTFA

        “In Florida’s case, the law is written so that a property seizure may only take place if the owner of the property is arrested for a crime for which said property would be described as “contraband.”

        So, limited to goods stolen or prohibited. Much better.

        1. My beef was with the part where you didn’t have to be convicted.

    2. I had the same take.

      Headline in a year: Arrests of people with hot cars triple!

  10. But what happens if you are charged, they take your house/money/car, and then you are exonerated? Do you get your stuff back? Automatically? The law would still not make any sense – they should not be able to punish you until and unless you are found guilty of a crime.

    1. But what happens if you are charged, they take your house/money/car, and then you are exonerated? Do you get your stuff back? Automatically?

      Your stuff was sold at auction last year. You can sue the department for the proceeds, but we have government attorneys defending the department for free and work with the judge every day, and you have free access to the government pissing in your face. How do you like the rain?

  11. alt-alt-text: The time has come, a fact’s a fact, it belongs to them…

  12. I applaud Reason for finding one of the few semi-normal pictures I’ve ever seen of Governor Rick Scott

    http://www.patrickstomlinson.c…..ements.jpg

    1. That photo looks vaguely familiar.

  13. Get ready for Speed traps in Florida…!

    Police just lost a revenue stream.

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  17. How about an actual, you know, conviction before stealing property? How about “no excessive fines”?

  18. so now the cops will just arrest people before making them pay a bribe. not a problem just more paper work that keeps the cop off the street where he doesn’t want to be anyway.

  19. RE: Florida Governor Signs Bill Requiring Actual Criminal Charges Before Seizing Property
    Important reform to reduce asset forfeiture abuse

    No! No! No!

    1. Where does Governor Scott get this idea from?
    The United States’ Constitution? The Federalist Papers? Writings from our Founding Fathers? What a sicko!

    2. Doesn’t Governor Scott realize that asset forfeiture abuse is a great way to let the little people who is boss?

    3. Doesn’t Governor Scott know asset forfeiture abuse is the keystone to giving their state and local police forces more money?

    What’s this country coming to?

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