Articles Posted in Forfeiture of Property

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The Florida forfeiture statute allows the government to take the property of people when that property was used in conjunction with certain criminal activity or represents the proceeds of certain criminal activity. As an example, if the police arrest someone immediately after a drug transaction and the defendant is found with $10,000 in cash upon the arrest, the police are going to take that money and attempt to forfeit by claiming it is the proceeds of illegal drug activity.

The government will attempt to forfeit a person’s property in many other situations, even when they do not even make any arrests or bring any criminal charges. If the state can establish by a preponderance of the evidence (50+%) that the property was used to facilitate certain criminal activity or is the proceeds of certain criminal activity, they may be entitled to keep that property.

What happens when the state believes a person made money from criminal activity but cannot actually trace that money that is the proceeds of the criminal activity? In those cases, the state will look for any other assets the suspect has and try to forfeit them as substitute assets.

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Shorstein & Lasnetski, LLC recently represented a person who was traveling through Jacksonville on his way back from a nearby poker tournament. Having had some success at the poker tournament, he was bringing a large sum of cash back home with him. When he went through the security line at the airport, he was stopped and escorted to a room by the Jacksonville airport police where his luggage was searched. At this point, there was no indication that he had broken any laws. When the police searched his belongings, they did not find anything illegal. They did, however, find a large amount of cash in his luggage. The police officers questioned him as to where he had been, where he was going and how he obtained the cash.

Due to terrorism and the safety concerns inherent in air travel, a person traveling through an airport does not have the same privacy rights that one would have in his/her home or vehicle. However, that does not mean that the police can detain a person, search his/her property and interrogate him/her without any evidence of criminal activity. However, that is exactly what happened here. The police found no evidence of any criminal activity and knew nothing about this individual other than the fact that he was traveling with cash. He would have been within his rights to refuse to answer any of their questions and demand to leave, but he decided to explain to them that he just came from a poker tournament where he won the money. The police were not satisfied with this response and seized his money. They then allowed him to fly home since they had no legal basis to detain him. Of course, they had no legal basis to take his money, but they did that anyway.

When the police seize property from someone, the government then has to file paperwork indicating an intention to forfeit, or retain ownership of, the property. While the client hoped that someone with even a basic grasp of the Constitution and Florida forfeiture laws would review this case and realize the money was improperly seized so it could be quickly returned to him, the opposite occurred. The government agency that reviewed the case filed paperwork to have the money forfeited to the government.

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In a recent case that was well publicized in Jacksonville and throughout Florida, state law enforcement officials made many arrests of people the state alleged were involved in illegal gambling operations. According to the state, the gambling operations involved internet cafes in cities across Florida and brought in millions in revenue. When the state attempts to make a case like this, it is almost certain that the state has its eye on the seizure and forfeiture of the property belonging to the suspects. This can mean cash, vehicles, bank accounts and even real property.

In this case, the state attempted to seize and forfeit all real property that was purchased with the proceeds of the allegedly illegal gambling activity. If the state can establish that property, such as cash, is the direct result of illegal activity, the state may be able to forfeit that property. Additionally, if the state can establish that property was purchased with money that was the direct result of certain criminal activity, the state may be able to forfeit that property as well. However, the state cannot merely claim that a person was involved in criminal activity that made money over a period of time and then start seizing property owned by that person or even purchased during that time frame. The state has the burden to establishing a connection between the illegal activity and the property, and only certain illegal activity can be the basis for a seizure and forfeiture based on proceeds of illegal activity.

In this case, the attorneys for the defendants and the claimants of the properties alleged that the state did not have sufficient probable cause to seize the properties. The Florida forfeiture laws do not allow the state to seize real properties if the basis is that the real properties were purchased as a result of a violation of gambling laws. The state may seize real properties they can prove were purchased using proceeds from other crimes, such as drug trafficking, but not gambling crimes. If the seizure and forfeiture attempt is based on the gambling laws, the state would have to prove that the real properties were actually used to commit the crimes. For instance, the state might be able to seize a building where illegal gambling took place, but the state could not seize a house that was allegedly purchased with the proceeds of illegal gambling operations.

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As we have discussed multiple times in the past, the Florida forfeiture laws give the state a lot of power to take property from people suspected of crimes and then institute forfeiture proceedings to keep that property. We have seen many cases where the state takes a person’s property, usually cash, based on mere suspicion of criminal activity. In some cases, even when a lot of money is taken by the state, criminal charges are never even brought. That appears to be a statement from the government that while we do not think we have sufficient evidence to charge you with a crime, we are still taking your money because we think it is related to criminal activity, or they jsut really want the money. There is an obvious disconnect, but the Florida forfeiture laws allow the state to do that.

Of course, if the state does take your property under those or any other circumstances, you have a right to make a claim for that property and fight to get it back. In that case, it is critical to speak to a law firm that is familiar with the Florida forfeiture laws and handles forfeiture cases in Florida. While there is not much that can be done when the police want to take, or seize, your property at the beginning, there are laws and procedures the state must follow in order to keep, or forfeit, your property thereafter. That is where an experienced Florida forfeiture lawyer can come in. It is important to speak to a Florida forfeiture attorney early in the process because there are certain documents that may need to be filed and certain hearings that should be scheduled to protect your claim. If you wait too long or do not get the proper paperwork filed, it could damage your claim for your property or even prevent you from making a claim altogether.

If you have had property taken from any law enforcement agency and want to protect your rights to get your property back, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

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The Florida forfeiture laws allow the government, in the form of police, to seize property from people in many circumstances. When the police seize property, whether it is money, a vehicle, electronics, or anything else the police would like to have, they have to file paperwork with the court to institute forfeiture proceedings. In those forfeiture proceedings, the state has to prove the property was used to facilitate some criminal transaction, was actual proceeds from a criminal transaction like drug sales or were otherwise connected to a criminal transaction.

In many cases, the property seized and forfeited is cash that is found in relation to an actual drug deal. In those cases, it can be difficult to recover the money seized by the police. However, the state has seemingly become a lot more brazen in their attempts to seize and forfeit property from Florida citizens. We have seen more and more cases where the police seize and attempt to forfeit large sums of money even though no one was arrested. It seems odd that the police can seize a person’s money or other property when the police do not think enough about what may have happened to even make a criminal arrest. However, there are many cases where the police take money or other property but do not bother to make an arrest.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police were patrolling along I-95 looking for a certain profile they believed fit the description of people transporting illegal drugs. In Florida, that usually means minorities, rental cars and/or out of state license plates. They stopped a driver and issued him a warning for driving too closely to another vehicle. The police asked the driver if he had any drugs in the vehicle, and he indicated he did not. The police then walked a drug dog around the vehicle, and the dog allegedly alerted to the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle. The police officer then searched the vehicle and found no drugs or anything else illegal in the vehicle. They did find several thousand dollars in cash in the vehicle, and seized that cash. Because there was obviously no crime committed, the police officer did not arrest the driver.

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As criminal defense lawyers in the Jacksonville and North Florida area, we have seen quite a few asset forfeiture cases lately. Asset forfeiture law is not technically criminal law, but it has a lot of similarities to it. A law firm that is familiar with search and seizure law and asset forfeiture law is important when the police seize a person’s property with the idea that they intend to keep, or forfeit, the property. An asset forfeiture case in Florida can start in many ways. A police officer can make a traffic stop of a person, determine that he/she is committing a crime and seize his/her money and or vehicle. Or, it can be a more premeditated effort based on an investigation. For instance, we have seen several incidents recently where the police investigate convenience stores for selling what they allege is synthetic marijuana. They send in undercover officers to make a few buys and then come back with uniformed officers to seize money, bank account information and merchandise.

Most people think the police can only seize and forfeit a person’s or business’s property if they can and intend to prove the person or owner of the business committed a crime. That is not always the case. We have handled cases where the police have seized over a million dollars from a person and business without filing criminal charges at all. We have seen cases where the police seized hundreds of thousands of dollars and made a criminal arrest, but they tried to keep the money even after the criminal charges were dropped.

If there is one thing the government likes, it is money, particularly other people’s money. Florida has some strange laws that allow the police to try and take people’s money and assets whether a crime is charged and pursued or not. If you have had your money or assets seized by the police and want to make sure your rights are protected and your ability to recover your property is preserved, it is important to talk to an attorney familiar and experienced with the Florida asset forfeiture laws. Feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

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At Shorstein & Lasnetski, LLC in Jacksonville, Florida, we handle all varieties of criminal cases in state and federal courts in Jacksonville, North Florida throughout Florida and in Georgia. Forfeiture cases are not exactly criminal cases, and they are not exactly civil cases. While the civil rules largely apply to these cases, they have many elements of a criminal case as well.

A forfeiture case arises when the police or other law enforcement agency seizes a person’s or company’s property based on the allegation that the person or corporation is involved in criminal activity and the property is related to the criminal activity or proceeds from the criminal activity. In many of these cases, the police will also arrest the person(s) allegedly involved with the criminal activity and/or the owner of the seized property. However,we have handled forfeiture cases in Florida where no criminal arrest was made at all; the police and the state were only interested in taking and keeping the individual’s and corporation’s money.

While the Florida forfeiture laws allow the state a lot of leeway in taking a person’s or company’s property based on allegations of criminal activity on the front end, that person or corporation has many rights and avenues to recover that property through the court system once it is seized.

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The Florida Contraband Act allows the state to seize and forfeit any property that is used in any way to commit certain crimes or that represents proceeds from certain crimes. The forfeiture law certainly covers motor vehicles used to facilitate any crime referenced in the forfeiture statute.

In a recent case just outside of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was stopped for having excessively tinted windows. The driver gave the police officer consent to search his car, and the police officer found a concealed firearm in a pouch attached to the driver’s seat of the vehicle. The driver, who did not have a concealed firearms permit, was arrested for possession of a concealed weapon. The police officer went on to seize the car based on that crime, and forfeiture proceedings were initiated by the state.

A person commits the crime of carrying a concealed weapon in his/her vehicle if he/she has the firearm out in the open in a place that is easily accessible. In other words, if the firearm is securely in a case or somewhere out of the driver’s reach, i.e. in the trunk, it is not a crime.

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In Florida, police may seize money or other property from a suspect if they believe the money or property represents proceeds from drug or other illegal activity or is otherwise related to drug or other illegal activity. Many times, the seizure results from a routine traffic stop. For instance, in a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police stopped a person for having illegally tinted windows. When the police officer approached the driver, the police officer said he smelled an odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle. The police officer ultimately found a fairly small bag of marijuana in the vehicle along with approximately $20,000 in cash. The police officer then seized the cash claiming it was drug related. The state then instituted forfeiture proceedings to keep the cash.

Florida law does allow the police to seize, and the state to forfeit, cash and other property that is proven to be related to drug crimes or other criminal activity. Of course, the person from whom the property is seized, or the owner of the property if different, has a right to contest the forfeiture. While it is a lower burden than in a regular criminal case, the State does have the burden to prove that the property is contraband, i.e. related to drug or other criminal activity. However, practically, the person from whom the property was taken or the owner of the property needs to establish that the property is legitimate and/or was acquired from a source unrelated to drug or other criminal activity. It is typically not enough to say the money came from a job, a lottery ticket or a lawsuit; actual facts to support the legitimate source of the money are important to present to the court. But when a person can prove that the property is legitimate and not related to drug or other criminal activity, the state has no right to keep any of the property.

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In a recent asset forfeiture case involving a client of the criminal defense and litigation law firm of Shorstein & Lasnetski, LLC, the state attorney’s office in South Florida agreed to return approximately $2.5 million of forfeited funds to the client, which constitute approximately 90% of the funds originally seized by the state.

In this case, Shorstein & Lasnetski’s client was a legitimate business in South Florida. The company was operating normally when the president learned that its main operating account had been frozen by law enforcement officials. The company was constantly ordering merchandise and paying vendors so that operating account was crucial for the normal operation of its business on a daily basis. However, with no notice of any kind, the state severely handicapped the business by seizing, and freezing, that account. The terms of the seizure allowed funds to be deposited into the bank account, but no money could be taken from that account. As a result, the company was at risk of bouncing checks to customers and vendors and was unable to make the regular payments required to make payroll and run the business.

After the initial sabotage of the company’s bank account, we learned that the state was accusing the company and its president of money laundering and money structuring. Money laundering occurs when a person or company obtains money that comes from an illegitimate source (such as drug money) and runs that dirty money through a business and mixes it with the business’s legitimate stream of income in a bank account in order to hide the source of the money, or clean it. Money structuring occurs when a person or company receives cash in excess of $10,000 and breaks that cash into lesser amounts to avoid the financial reporting requirement. When a business receives cash in an amount greater than $10,000, that business is required to prepare and file a form 8300 which provides identification information about the person providing the cash. The purpose of this requirement is to provide information to the government about people dealing in large amounts of cash so they can investigate the source of the cash. If a company receives $12,000 in cash from a customer and deposits $7,000 one day at one bank branch and $5,000 another day at a different branch, that is money structuring if it is done to avoid the financial reporting requirement.