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.
These forfeiture cases can arise in many different ways. We have handled forfeiture cases where a company notices that its bank accounts have been frozen by police without advanced notice as the company is trying to run its daily operations. We have handled cases where a person gets arrested for an alleged drug crime and the police will take his car, his money and search his home and take things of value in there as well. We have handled forfeiture cases where the police will go into a business operating openly and take everything in the cash register, in the safe, on the employees and everything in the store’s and store owner’s bank accounts based on alleged criminal activity.
As you can see, the state is not shy about searching a person, going onto a person’s property and/or going into a business and taking anything and everything of value based on unproven allegations of criminal activity. The state also has no problem contacting a person’s or company’s bank without notice and freezing the accounts without any regard for what impact this may have on the person’s or company’s ability to pay his/her bills or fund its operations.
Again, the forfeiture laws are designed to give the police and the state a lot of leeway in doing this. However, this does not mean that the property is the state’s to keep. If this happens, it is critical for the person or corporation whose assets have been seized to contact a law firm whose attorneys understand both criminal law and forfeiture law so immediate efforts can be taken to return that property to its rightful owner.
In a recent case, the state did exactly what we have described above. A store owner sold a variety of items one would find in a typical convenience store. He also sold incense (the state called it synthetic marijuana) that people used to smoke but was not considered illegal by the Florida legislature at the time he was selling it. Despite the fact that this substance was not an illegal substance at the time and despite what illegal sounding name the police wanted to give it, the police came in, seized all of the product, all of the cash in the store and all of the funds in the store’s and store owner’s bank accounts.
After meeting with the store owner and reviewing the police reports that the state relied upon for this forfeiture attempt, it was clear to us that the state had no legal basis to seize and try to forfeit the store owner’s money. Once these legal arguments were presented, we were able to recover all of the funds seized by the state for our client.
When people think of police activity, they primarily think of crimes and arrests. However, there is an area of law that deals with the state taking property from people alleged to be involved in criminal activity. This is called forfeiture law. These forfeitures can have a serious effect on a person’s and/or corporation’s ability to survive and operate.
If you have had any property seized by the police or have received a forfeiture notice from the state and want to assert your rights in getting your property back, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.