Taxpayers beware: There is a dangerously naive proposal making the rounds in Tallahassee. Some politicians want to significantly damage Florida’s successful Contraband Forfeiture Act.
This is the law that prevents criminals from profiting from their illegal acts. Just like we prohibit killers from profiting by writing books about their crimes, the civil contraband forfeiture law in Florida allows law enforcement agencies to seize assets that are linked to criminal activity — with full due process protections for the accused.
Bills sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, Reps. Larry Metz and Matt Caldwell (Senate Bill 1044 and House Bill 889) would make it more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to seize criminals’ illegally obtained assets.
As a result, more crooks will get to keep their ill-gotten money while you work, pay your taxes, and now will have to pay more to ensure law enforcement has the necessary tools to fight and reduce crime. Why should hard-working taxpayers pay more in taxes while criminals who sell drugs to our kids get to keep their dishonestly acquired money?
HB 889 and SB 1044 are being promoted as “reform” legislation that will protect the property rights of innocent people, but the reality is that our existing law already has extensive citizen protections built in. Don’t be misled.
Under current law, the court must find probable cause that the property was used for criminal activity in violation of the act. Then law enforcement must prove in front of a jury (unless the defendant waives a jury trial) that the contraband article or cash was linked to a crime by clear and convincing evidence. Florida is one of 11 states that have a “clear and convincing proof standard,” which is the highest civil standard of proof and higher than most other states.
Right now, this civil forfeiture process works well and benefits the taxpayers. Law enforcement, with ample checks and balances, is able to use proceeds from forfeitures to fund school resource officers, crime prevention and safe neighborhood programs, drug abuse education and prevention programs, or for other restricted law enforcement purposes.
These resources cannot be used to meet normal operating budget expenses — proceeds are used to purchase equipment and materials that enhance law enforcement’s ability to fight crime and prevent drug abuse. These valuable resources provide taxpayers direct value by lowering the overall cost of funding law enforcement.
Why do these politicians want to change the law that is among the most effective — and protective — in the nation? It boils down to one thing: knee-jerk “anti-police” political nonsense.
Frankly, politicians don’t have to trust the police regarding civil forfeitures — trust the courts, the law and juries. There are multiple built-in protections in the civil forfeiture process that protect innocent owners of property seized during a criminal investigation.
Some legislators want to make it tougher on law enforcement and easier on criminals when it comes to contraband forfeiture. So, unless you want to pay more taxes and let criminals keep their dirty money, please call or write your legislators and tell them you stand with law enforcement and support Florida’s successful Contraband Forfeiture Act.
Grady Judd is Polk County’s sheriff. Column courtesy of Context Florida.