Vehicle Forfeiture- Did the police take your car, truck, automobile or vehicle after your arrest and provide you with a Notice of Seizure?

Did the Tampa Police Department or Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office take your vehicle after an arrest? If a law enforcement officer provided you with a Notice of Seizure of Personal Property and Right to Adversarial Preliminary Hearing, you must act quickly to preserve your rights.

Your vehicle might be returned for a fraction of the costs first quoted after you hire an forfeiture attorney to petition for an “adversarial preliminary hearing” and negotiate the return of the vehicle. Hiring an attorney might save you a considerable amount of money.

They Hope You Don’t File for a Adversarial Preliminary Hearing

The city or county attorney does not want to defend the act in front of a judge at a preliminary hearing. The officers do not want to appear and testify about why they took your vehicle. Requesting the adversarial preliminary hearing is your most important right.

Forfeitures are not favored in law or equity. “Forfeiture statutes must be strictly construed against the government.” In re Forfeiture of $91,357.12, 595 So.2d 998, 999 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992). As a matter of policy, the court are required to strictly construe forfeiture statutes. See Dep’t of Law Enforcement v. Real Prop., 588 So.2d 957, 961 (Fla.1991)).

What Happens at the Adversarial Preliminary Hearing?

The hearings are so important because it requires the city or county attorney to show up in court with the officer that can testify about facts that support the seizure. Only a small fraction of people entitled to a hearing actually request one.

The city or county attorney will often go to great lengths to avoid that hearing, including just returning the asset and dropping the action. In other cases, they will drop the amount they are demanding to settle the case.

Two Stages to the Forfeiture Proceeding

The Florida Supreme Court has held that under the Forfeiture Act there are two stages to forfeiture proceedings. The first stage is the seizure stage. The second stage is the forfeiture stage.

Standards for the Adversarial Preliminary Hearing

In the seizure stage, a judge in the circuit court must determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the property has been used in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Forfeiture Act.

After a timely request for the adversarial preliminary hearing, a judge in circuit court must conduct a hearing pursuant to the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, sections 932.701–.706, Florida Statutes (2010) to determine:

  • whether the asset had been used in violation of the Act. See § 932.703(2)(a);
  • whether the seizure was constitutional (or a Fourth Amendment Unreasonable Stop, Search or Detention Occurred); and
  • whether the taking was supported by probable cause.

The request for the adversarial preliminary hearing can be made by any person entitled to notice of the seizure which would include any owner of the asset.

At this initial hearing, the trial judge must determine whether sufficient probable cause exists to sustain the forfeiture proceeding in question. In order to determine whether probable cause exists, the court must determine whether the information relied on by the State is adequate and sufficiently reliable to warrant the belief by a “reasonable person that a violation has occurred.” See Roca v. Miami-Dade Cnty., 76 So. 3d 306 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011).

Much Less Scrutiny if No Request for Hearing Made

“Otherwise, the court independently reviews the seizing agency’s forfeiture petition and supporting affidavit to make a probable cause determination for the seizure. § 932.704(4)(b).” See In re Forfeiture of: $221,898 in U.S. Currency, 106 So. 3d 47, 49 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2013).

Forfeiture Stage Means Proof Before a Court or Jury

“If the court finds probable cause, it authorizes the seizure or continued seizure of the property. § 932.703(2)(c), (d). If the seizure is found to be supported by probable cause, the case proceeds to the forfeiture stage, in which the seizing agency must prove to the court or jury that the owner of the seized property had actual or constructive knowledge that it was being used in violation of the Forfeiture Act. If so, the property is forfeited. § 932.704(8).” Id. (internal citations omitted).

Act Quickly to Preserve All Avenues of Attack

This request, however, must be filed within fifteen days of the seizure of the vehicle. Call us to fight for the return of your vehicle if it was seized by law enforcement officers in Hillsborough County including:

  • the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office;
  • the City of Tampa Tampa Police Department;
  • the Florida Highway Patrol;
  • the Plant City Police Department; or
  • the Temple Terrace Police Department.

Contact an attorney for vehicle forfeiture cases in Tampa, FL at the Sammis Law Firm, P.A., to discuss getting your car, truck, automobile or vehicle back after a seizure by the police. Act quickly to preserve all avenues of attacking the action taken by law enforcement.

This article was last updated on Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

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