Center for Property Rights

Reform needed on c⁠i⁠v⁠i⁠l forfe⁠i⁠⁠t⁠ure laws

By: The James Madison Institute / 2016
Reform needed on civil forfeiture laws
By: Daniel Peterson

Under the current policy of civil forfeiture, law enforcement officials can stop you, seize your property and assume ownership of it without making a charge or arrest.

Once proven innocent, it is up to the owner of the seized property to pursue having that property returned. This may involve hiring an attorney and going through expensive legal proceedings.

Justin Pearson of the Institute for Justice wrote about one well-publicized example of civil asset forfeiture in Volusia County that took place during the 1990s.

“The Volusia County Sheriff recognized that drugs entered the county on one side of I-95, with the proceeds returning in the other direction. Rather than attempt to stop the drugs, which the sheriff obviously could not sell or apply to his budget, the sheriff instead focused his resources on trying to intercept the money going back out.

“The sheriff specifically targeted minorities, and the only evidence required for seizure was the mere fact that the drivers had cash in their possession. Documentation proving the legitimacy of the money was irrelevant, as discovered by Navy reservist Bobby Jones, who provided pay stubs for his $3,989 but watched in horror as his money was seized anyway. More than 75 percent of Volusia County’s seizures resulted in zero arrests.”

Addressing this concern, several states have banned civil forfeiture or require a criminal conviction. These reforms would serve citizens’ property rights and build confidence in law enforcement.

Reform bills in the Florida Legislature will now be heard on the floor of the House and Senate as early as next week.

John Adams, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, proclaimed, “Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist.” This legislation is an important step in the right direction for protecting Floridians’ liberty and their property rights – the time is now to move forward on reform.