Recently in Asset Forfeitures Category

November 14, 2011

Local Governments Generate Revenue Through Forfeitures

The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act allows local governments to seize and seek the forfeiture of private property it they can prove that items taken are contraband articles. Contraband articles include controlled substances or drug paraphernalia possessed in contravention of the Florida drug laws, motor vehicles, real property, monies or currencies, or other personal items. Attorneys representing the local governments are responsible for filing the forfeiture actions. These lawyers must be able to prove that the items being forfeited must have been used as an instrumentality in the commission of; or in aiding or abetting in the commission of a felony; or were a acquired as a result of a criminal act. Anyone who is the subject of a forfeiture actions is entitled to retain a Miami lawyer to represent their interests and defend the action. Failure to timely respond to a forfeiture action will cause someone to lose their interest in the property.

Asset forfeiture cases routinely arise from criminal arrests, however, these cases are civil and not criminal in nature. While the forfeiture laws seem unfair, the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Acts provides many safeguards which help protect an individuals right to their property. Personal property may be seized at the time of the arrest. The government lawyers must notify the person whose property was seized of their intent to forfeit the property within five days of the seizure. The notice must be sent by certified mail. Once the individual has received the notice by certified mail, they are entitled to request an adversarial preliminary hearing, as long as the request is made within 15 days of receipt of the notice. Once a request for an adversarial preliminary hearing is made, the seizing agency must ensure that the hearing is held within 10 days. If the hearing is not held within 10 days, and the agency is at fault, the interest in the property will be returned to the owner. It should be noted that the arresting agency may attempt to hold the property as evidence of the crime. If this is the cases, the issue is litigated in criminal court.

If the seizing agency cannot prove at the preliminary hearing that the items seized were contraband under Florida law, the items must be returned. If the property holder loses the preliminary hearing, all hope is not lost, as the case may proceed to trial at a later date when a jury would determine whether or not the seized property was contraband under the letter of the law. Many of the local governments or police agencies will try to settle the cases early on as they have an incentive to close out the cases as soon as possible. A lot of this depends on the property they have seized. In general, the agencies will agree to return 40% of any money taken to avoid protracted lawsuits. When is comes to automobiles, boats or aircraft, an agency's position will be determined on whether or not they have some use for the property. Individuals who have had personal property seized can often purchase their property back at an agreed amount.

Many cash strapped jurisdictions in and around South Florida have upped their involvement in asset forfeitures to increase their revenues. For example, Boynton Beach, Florida has been seeking the forfeiture of automobiles and cash to pay their bills. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union think that the Florida forfeiture laws may be unconstitutional, but have yet to challenge the law. Either way, individuals who have property seized do not have to rollover and see their assets taken from them. To fight the system, a qualified attorney experienced in defending forfeiture actions should be hired as the seizing agency has a lawyer working for them.

Confiscations after Crimes Pays Off for Boynton Beach, The Palm Beach Post.com, November 14, 2011.

June 25, 2010

Law Enforcement Arrest Dozen in Marijuana Trafficking Sweep

Local law enforcement shut down almost 50 marijuana "grow houses" last week. The massive marijuana trafficking sweep was conducted by local, state and federal law enforcement authorities. Police officers seized more than 2,300 marijuana pants, along with oxycodone pills, cocaine, and several firearms. The also seized $9,500 in cash and an automobile. In total 42, people were arrested and will likely be represented by Miami criminal lawyers. The marijuana seized had an estimated street value of $9.4 million. The Miami-Dade led investigation also revealed information leading to a grow house bust in Vero Beach which netted 220 plants with an estimated street value of $2.4 million. The marijuana trafficking sweep was planned and leg by a federal initiative of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking program. The program provides local law enforcement with additional resources to fight illegal drugs in certain parts of the country.

Anyone arrested for marijuana trafficking or having assets seized by the police should seek the assistance of a Miami drug trafficking lawyer with experience appearing in civil court to seek the return of cash and other personal property. In drug trafficking cases, property can be seized by the police department if the cash can be linked to the drug trafficking operation. For example, of a large amount of cash is found inside a "grow house" law enforcement will seek to keep the money. If the marijuana is being transported inside a vehicle, either a car or boat, law enforcement can seek to keep that property as well.

Asset forfeiture cases occur in civil court. The police must first notify the person that they intend on keeping the seized property. The lawyer representing that person has two options. First, an agreement can sometimes be reached with law enforcement whereby they agree to return a portion of the seized property. Secondly, a person can request a probable cause hearing within 15 days of the seizure. You and you asset forfeiture lawyer would appear before a civil circuit court judge and argue that there is no probable linking the seized property to a drug trafficking operation. If the judge finds no probable cause, the person will get all of his or her property back.

Depending on the strength of the drug trafficking case, an asset forfeiture may be the least of a person's problems. Defendants caught with more than 25 pounds or marijuana can and will be charged with marijuana trafficking. The charge is a first degree felony carrying up to 30 years in prison. The charge also carries a 3 year minimum mandatory sentence which in nutshell means the court can offer nothing less than that in terms of a plea. Additionally, prosecutors in state court generally do not like to offer anything less than the 3 year prison term as well. Skilled criminal attorneys have the ability to obtain better plea offers or even dismissals if the police conducted an illegal search and seizure of the evidence or conducted an illegal stop of a vehicle. The 4th Amendment to the Constitutions provides many safeguards to defendants which must be taken advantage of to properly defend any drug trafficking case.

Police Raid Marijuana Grow Houses in Massive Sweep, The Miami Herald.com, June 18, 2010.