While the first of April is considered a day filled with pranks, the news of long-awaited asset forfeiture reform was no joke when Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 1044.
Prior to the Florida governor affixing his signature to the legislation, civil forfeiture was the law of the land. Law enforcement could seize money and other property belonging to criminal suspects without filing charges or securing a conviction. Only probable cause had to exist.
Under the new law that passed unanimously, state police must arrest and charge a suspect with a crime before seizing any property and money. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, the bill's sponsor, praised the governor and his fellow legislators from all sides for taking the lead in defending private property rights.
Opponents allege that the new law protects criminals and places future burdens on taxpayers and community programs.
This historic event occurs in the shadow of the Department of Justice relaunching equitable sharing days before the governor put pen to paper. That federal program allowed state law enforcement agencies to team with the DOJ in drug crime cases. For their efforts, they would keep a significant portion of seized assets.
The Florida law goes into effect on July 1. Some states have passed similar bills while legislatures nationwide continue to debate their own civil forfeiture laws.
If you have been investigated or arrested for illegal drug possession, you have rights. Those rights require immediate protection from a skilled and knowledgeable Florida criminal defense attorney.