Police Cannot Seize and Forfeit Property Without Showing Owner’s Knowledge of Criminal Activity

If Jacksonville police officers are investigating a drug crime or other felony and determine that a crime has occurred or is occurring, the Jacksonville police officers may seize money or other property that is being used in connection with that crime or is proceeds of the drug or other criminal activity. The law that allows the police to take, and try to keep, property from people that is connected to a crime is called the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act. Basically, the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act (FCFA) sets up procedures whereby police can seize and ultimately forfeit property that is used in connection with a drug or other felony crime.

In Jacksonville, this seizure and forfeiture of property in connection with a drug or other felony crime commonly occurs when an officer pulls over a suspect and finds drugs and cash in the vehicle. The police officer may then seize the cash and the vehicle as well as the drugs and claim that the cash and vehicle were used to facilitate a drug crime or were proceeds of a drug crime. The government then has to notify the owner(s) of the property seized that they intend to forfeit, or keep, that property. The owner(s) then has to actively make a claim for the property, and the case is litigated through the civil court system.

It is also common for the police to seize and attempt to forfeit property that is owned by someone who has no knowledge of any criminal activity. For instance, if in the example above, the vehicle belonged to a friend or relative who let the criminal suspect borrow his/her car and had no idea drugs would be transported in the vehicle, that owner would be what is called an innocent owner. The Florida forfeiture laws do not allow the police and the government to forfeit property from someone who had no knowledge of the drug or other criminal activity that is the basis of the forfeiture. In the past and in some states other than Florida, it was up to the innocent owner of the property to show that he/she did not know and had no reason to know that his/her property was used in connection with drug or other felony criminal activity. However, under the Florida forfeiture laws, the government has the burden of proving that it is more likely than not that the owner of the property they seek to forfeit did not, and had no reason to, know of the criminal activity. If the government cannot meet that burden, that property must be returned to the owner under the Florida forfeiture laws.

If you have been arrested by the the police in Jacksonville or anywhere in Florida and the police officer seized property owned by you or someone who let you borrow that property (or you loaned property that was later seized to someone else), the police and the government may try to keep, or forfeit, that property. It is important that you act quickly to assert your rights to recover property that the police and the government may not have a right to keep.

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