HB 889 did pass the House Judiciary Committee 17-0 today, but was watered down through an amendment.
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Currently Civil Asset Forfeiture allows law enforcement agencies to confiscate any property they allege is connected to a crime. Cash, cars, real estate, boats and other possessions may be seized and forfeited to the agency without a conviction. In fact, assets could be seized even without the owner being charged with a crime.
In the fall, Senator Brandes filed SB 1044 to prohibit finalization of forfeiture under Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act until the owner is convicted of a criminal act that renders property contraband article. No one should ever lose their property if they are not convicted of a crime. The Florida Sheriffs Association used their clout to pressure legislators to oppose this common sense reform. Now, we have compromise language added to the House companion bill HB 889, where law enforcement cannot seize property without an arrest and a hearing to prove they have sufficient evidence to confiscate the property. If the Judge rules in a hearing that probable cause exists, then the forfeiture is final, even if the defendant is eventually acquitted of the criminal charge. Also, cash (“monetary instrument”) can still be seized without probable cause or arrest.
The term "monetary instrument" means coin or currency of the United States or any other country; a traveler's check, personal check, bank check, a cashier's check, a money order, a bank draft of any country, an investment security or negotiable instrument in bearer form or in other form such that title passes upon delivery; a prepaid or stored value card or other device that is the equivalent of money and can be used to obtain cash, property, or services; gold, silver, or platinum bullion or coins.
Some claim this not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. Currently, law enforcement can take your property without arresting you or even charging you with a crime. You must hire an attorney and spend thousands of dollars just to get your property back. The proposed compromise at least requires an arrest and a hearing before the final forfeiture of property. Bottom line is, this compromise language would reduce the abuse we have currently, but still means an innocent owner eventually acquitted of charges could still lose their property.
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