National Advocacy Groups Support Florida Civil Forfeiture Reform Bill
By: Chris Spencer
Tallahassee, Fla.—Today Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and Representative Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) announced the endorsement of Senate Bill 1044 and House Bill 883, related to forfeiture of contraband, by several prominent national policy advocacy organizations. The groups supporting the legislation are Americans for Tax Reform, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the James Madison Institute, and the Institute for Justice.
“This legislation proposes a very simple concept: if the government is going to seize your property they must charge you with a crime – and if the government wants to keep your property they must convict you,” stated Senator Brandes. “Property rights are a bedrock principle of our republic. A heavy burden should always be on the government when seizing property from a Floridian.”
“Momentum is growing behind this proposal and the support illustrates how important this initiative is for our citizens,” stated Representative Caldwell. “Floridians deserve to be protected by the highest legal standard when the government attempts to seize their property or assets. At its core, this legislation is fundamentally about property rights and protecting citizens from abuses by their government.”
Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, issued the following statement: “The seizure of assets and property by government through civil asset forfeiture is taxation without representation. If the government is going to seize property, citizens should be entitled to the highest standard of due process to challenge that seizure. More states should follow Florida’s lead by adopting legislation like this to protect property owners and taxpayers from abuses of the forfeiture process by their government.”
“We applaud Senator Brandes and Representative Caldwell for working to reform the broken system that law enforcement uses to seize private property,” said Tim Nungesser, Florida Legislative Director of the NFIB. “Small business owners, who often deal in cash and carry those assets with them to conduct their business, are very exposed to the potential for civil forfeiture seizures. As a result, an overwhelming majority of small business owners surveyed agree that a person should be charged and convicted of a crime before their assets can be seized.”
“Nobody should lose their property without being convicted of a crime,” stated Justin Pearson, managing attorney of the Institute for Justice’s Florida office. “Florida’s civil forfeiture law has caused the Sunshine State to fall behind the national trend to improve property rights. This bill is an important step towards fixing this abusive system to strengthen the protection of property rights.”
“The fundamentals of property rights and due process are among the bedrock of our society — critical enough to be preserved in our Constitution. When those rights are infringed upon, we will fight to protect them,” said Sal Nuzzo, Vice President of Policy at The James Madison Institute (JMI). “JMI is pleased to join leaders like Senator Brandes and Representative Caldwell in the effort to safeguard all Floridians from having their property seized without due process.”
“Florida law allows law enforcement to seize your belongings even if you haven’t been convicted of a crime. It’s fundamentally un-American to let the government deprive a person of his belongings if the offense is so minor or the case so tenuous that it doesn’t result in a conviction. The bills discussed today will make sure this no longer happens in Florida,” stated Michelle Richardson, Florida Public Policy Director of the ACLU. “Proponents of civil asset forfeiture claim that judicial review after the fact validates current seizure programs. However, that is not comparable to the protections offered in a criminal prosecution –like a state provided attorney for low income people. Additionally, a new senate report shows that 86% of people do not bother formally challenging the seizure. The system is so weighted in favor of law enforcement that it is fundamentally unfair.”
The legislation eliminates civil forfeiture in the state of Florida. Under the proposal, a forfeiture of assets or property under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act may only be pursued after a defendant has been convicted of a criminal act which has rendered the property as contraband forfeiture. The bill comes amid growing nationalattentionon the use of civil forfeiture by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justiceannouncedthe restructuring of federal asset forfeiture protocols, and the Institute for JusticecriticizedFlorida’s asset forfeiture laws in a 2010 report, grading the state “D” on the issue.