Asset Forfeiture in Drug Crime Cases

Lawyers Protecting Your Rights in St. Petersburg

In Florida, a person arrested for drugs may not only face criminal charges, but also the loss of their personal property. Asset forfeiture laws allow officers of government agencies to seize property, cash, and assets used in the commission of felony drug offenses and other crimes. In some cases, the government may keep the property, even if the owner is not convicted of any crime. For those who have been the target of asset forfeiture in drug crime cases, a St. Petersburg drug crime attorney can protect your rights. At Blake & Dorsten, P.A., we can help you contest the forfeiture and fight to recover your personal property.

Florida Asset Forfeiture in Drug Crime Cases

Forfeiture is the government seizure of property and assets connected to criminal activity. There are generally two types of forfeiture. A criminal forfeiture occurs when a person is convicted of a crime and is ordered to surrender property as part of their sentence. In a civil forfeiture, no conviction or criminal charge is necessary. Real property or personal property items, including any motor vehicle, boat, aircraft, firearm, weapon, or money, which are instrumental to the commission of any felony crime, or which were acquired by proceeds from a felony crime, may be seized if the owner is arrested for that crime. If the owner was not arrested for committing the crime, but had actual knowledge of the criminal activity, the property is also subject to forfeiture.

In asset forfeiture in drug crime cases, law enforcement officers may confiscate any controlled substance, drug paraphernalia, cash, or currency used or intended to be used in violation of Florida drug laws without making any arrest. The police will commonly seize cash, handguns, and weapons when making a drug crime arrest. Other items subject to forfeiture in felony drug cases include any vehicles used to commit the crime or in which the drugs were found.

Asset Forfeiture Proceedings

Under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, there are measures in place to protect the rights of property owners and to prevent the abuse of asset forfeiture by government officials. The seizing agency must file a civil complaint in circuit court alleging the basis for the forfeiture and provide notice to the owner within five days of seizing their property. The property owner then has fifteen days to request an adversarial preliminary hearing, at which the owner may present testimony and other supporting documents. If no preliminary hearing is requested, the court will review the complaint to determine whether there was probable cause for the seizure. The owner has twenty days after a probably cause finding to file a responsive pleading to contest the forfeiture. The court will order property forfeited only if the enforcement agency proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the seized items were instrumental to a crime, or were proceeds of a crime.

During forfeiture proceedings, the owner may hire a lawyer to represent them. Even if the owner was convicted of the underlying drug offense, there are defenses to forfeiture that may be available, depending on the circumstances. For example, it is an affirmative defense that the connection between the property and the crime was incidental or entirely accidental. In addition, property that was seized unconstitutionally may not be forfeited. Illegal traffic stops based on pretext, coercive-consent searches, and police searches based solely upon an individual’s race or ethnicity may be used to defend against asset forfeiture in some drug crime cases.

Discuss Your Case with an Attorney in St. Petersburg

If law enforcement officers have seized your vehicle or personal property after an arrest, you can retain a lawyer to represent you. At Blake & Dorsten, P.A., we have the experience to defend against felony drug charges and asset forfeiture cases throughout Pinellas County, including St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa Bay, and many other locations. Schedule a free consultation with skilled attorney by calling our office at 727-286-6141 or contacting us online.

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