Vehicle Forfeiture in Florida: Can the police take your car?

Pursuant to the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, the police can take your car if they can prove that you or someone else used your vehicle in the commission of a crime. However, due to recent changes in legislation, the burden of proof the police have is much higher. They must abide by strict protocols to rightfully take your car.

If the police took your car, you have the right to a hearing to state your case and ask for your car back. Goldman Wetzel can help. Contact our office in St. Petersburg and talk to our criminal defense lawyers. We can review the facts of your case, explain your rights, and help fight the forfeiture to get your car back.

Call us today: 727-828-3900.

What is the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act?

Florida Statute § 932.701, the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act provides law enforcement with the authority to seize and forfeit property related to violations of the law.

The statute notes that the authorities can take your personal property deemed as contraband when it was “used or was attempted to be used as an instrumentality in the commission of, or in aiding or abetting in the commission of any felony, whether or not comprising an element of the felony.”

These instances allow for a lot of leeway for police to seize your car. If they can show that your car was used in the carrying out of a felony crime — even if the crime was not related to the vehicle — they can confiscate your car and possibly later sell it for profit.

New Legislation Provides You with More Protection Against Forfeiture

In 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott approved a house bill that makes it much more difficult for police to confiscate your vehicle. Prior to HB 889, enacted July 1, 2016, the burden of proof for police to take someone’s personal property was relatively slight. Even if you were not charged with or convicted of a crime, they could take your car. If they found you with a $20 bag of marijuana in your car for instance, they could seize and forfeit your car.

However, after the new law took effect in July 2016, police are finding it much harder to take people’s property. In fact, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes said in an interview with The Huffington Post, “For all of the large states, Florida now will have the most robust protections in civil asset forfeiture.”

For police to seize your vehicle and order its forfeiture in Florida, the law stipulates that:

  • You must have been arrested for a felony that makes your vehicle contraband.
  • The head of the law enforcement agency that seized your car must approve of the settlement.
  • The agency must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you, or someone else, was using a contraband article in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act. (Prior to the new law, the evidentiary standard of proof was only “clear and convincing evidence,” not “beyond a reasonable doubt.”)

How does vehicle forfeiture work?

There are two stages to forfeiture proceedings: the seizure stage and the forfeiture stage. At the time of seizure, law enforcement must notify you in person or via certified mail. You should receive a Notice of Seizure of Personal Property and Right to Adversarial Preliminary Hearing.

Call our office for help. We will request a hearing within the confines of the time limit. At the hearing, the agency must prove a “nexus” or link between your car and the criminal activity, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that your car was used or was intended to be used in violation of the Contraband Forfeiture Act.

If the agency proves the nexus, the case proceeds to the forfeiture stage, where it must prove that you knew that you or someone else was using your car in the commission of a crime. Only if it proves both of these elements will the judge grant forfeiture.

Goldman Wetzel can represent you during vehicle forfeiture proceedings.

If the police took your vehicle, call Goldman Wetzel and speak to our defense attorneys about your case. There are several defenses we can use to try to get your car back. For example, we might be able to present evidence that shows you had no knowledge someone was using your car in the commission of a crime.

Act quickly before law enforcement forfeits and sells your vehicle for profit. Contact us today at 727-828-3900 for a free consultation.