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.