Joe Negron, the Stuart-based state Senator who recently survived a marathon battle with Jack Latvala to become Senate President in 2017, has signed on as a co-sponsor Jeff Brandes civil asset forfeiture bill (SB 1044) in the Legislature’s upper chamber.
The legislation would stipulate assets or property may only be seized under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act after a criminal defendant has been convicted of a crime. Up to that point, assets suspected to be connected to a crime may be only temporarily revoked under a provisional title obtained by police.
Under current law, police can seize assets without even bringing charges against a defendant.
Civil asset forfeiture laws became in vogue with law enforcement agencies in the 1980s, where they became empowered to seize the property and money associated with criminal organizations involved in the illegal drug trade. The agencies that seized the assets were allowed to keep the proceeds resulting from their seizures, creating a powerful financial incentive to seize and forfeit property.
Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, however, with civil forfeiture, a property owner need not be found guilty of a crime – or even charged – to permanently lose her cash, car, home, or other property.
Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell is sponsoring the companion bill (HB 883) in the House.