Policing for Profit

Florida earns a D+ for its civil forfeiture laws

Higher bar to forfeit property, but no conviction required

Stronger protections for innocent third-party property owners

As much as 85% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

Meriting a D+, Florida’s civil forfeiture laws are subpar and need reform, but state and local law enforcement’s use of equitable sharing is even worse—it ranks 48th in the country. The standard of proof for forfeiture in Florida is clear and convincing evidence that the property is connected with criminal activity—a higher standard than that of most states but still lower than the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt required for criminal convictions. In addition, the government bears the burden of disproving any innocent owner claim. But these protections are somewhat overshadowed by a strong incentive to seize: Florida law enforcement agencies get to keep up to 85 percent of forfeited funds.

Making matters worse, Florida law enforcement agencies are not required to report forfeitures. The Institute for Justice obtained some records of forfeiture proceeds through a Florida Public Records Act request. However, these data only reflect forfeitures conducted by the state policing agency; forfeitures occurring at the local or county level are unreported and unknown. The data, which may double count income from participation in the federal equitable sharing program, show that state law enforcement forfeited more than $117 million in currency, real property and vehicles between 2009 and 2014, or about $19.5 million a year.

State Law Sources

Standard of proofClear and convincing evidence.
Fla. Stat. § 932.704(8); Dep’t of Law Enforcement v. Real Prop., 588 So. 2d 957, 967–68 (Fla. 1991) (requiring clear and convincing standard of proof in forfeiture cases as a matter of constitutional law).
Innocent owner burdenGovernment.
Fla. Stat. § 932.703(6); Gomez v. Vill. of Pinecrest, 41 So. 3d 180, 184–85 & n.2 (Fla. 2010) (explaining that Florida law changed in 1995 to place the burden of proof on the seizing agency).
Profit incentiveUp to 85 percent.
Fla. Stat. § 932.7055(5)(c)(3).
Reporting requirementsNone.

Florida ranks 48th for federal forfeiture, with over $412 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

State Forfeiture Data

YearCurrencyReal PropertyVehiclesTotal
Average per year$19,447,327$31,583$32,828$19,511,738
Source: Reports of forfeitures conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Other state and local law enforcement agencies are not required to report. It is possible that FDLE proceeds also include income from participation in equitable sharing programs—the data provided were unclear.

Federal Equitable Sharing

Ranking 48th nationally, Florida law enforcement agencies also generate substantial revenue through the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. Between 2000 and 2013, Florida agencies received a staggering $412 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds, averaging more than $29 million each calendar year. Almost all of these proceeds resulted from joint task forces and investigations. Given the small share of revenue—just 4 percent—accruing to agencies from adoptions, it seems unlikely that Florida law enforcement’s equitable sharing behavior will change significantly in light of the DOJ’s recent policy change curbing adoptions. Finally, Florida agencies also brought in more than $100 million between fiscal years 2000 and 2013, or nearly $7.2 million annually, from the Treasury Department. almost $325,000 a year.

(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
Average Per Year$29,473,021$7,172,643