Policing for Profit
Florida earns a C for its civil forfeiture laws.
Higher bar to forfeit: Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that property is connected to a crime.
Stronger protections for the innocent: The government must prove third-party owners knew about criminal activity connected to their property.
Large profit incentive: Up to 75% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.
The letter grade reflects the state's forfeiture laws as of December 2020. When we become aware of relevant reforms, we are updating the standard of proof, innocent owner burden and financial incentive language above, but we are not updating the letter grade.
- (2016) SB 1044: Increased government’s filing fee for forfeiture actions to $1,000 and required government to post a $1,500 bond payable to owners who win property back; raised standard of proof; required arrest before seizure of most property; increased availability of attorney fees for innocent owners; adopted new transparency requirements; increased judicial and administrative oversight.
- End civil forfeiture
- Direct all forfeiture proceeds to a non-law enforcement fund
- Close the equitable sharing loophole
- Strengthen transparency and accountability requirements
State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019
From 2009 to 2014 and 2017 to 2018, Florida law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $392 million under state law. Between 2000 and 2019, they generated an additional $646 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $1 billion in forfeiture revenue. Florida ranks 44th for its participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. The state does not prevent state and local agencies from using equitable sharing to circumvent state forfeiture law.
At least $1 billion in state and federal forfeiture revenue
|Year||Florida Forfeiture Revenues||Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds||Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds||Total||
$0 ↦ $265,992,392
Department of Justice
Florida Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card
|C||Tracking Seized Property|
|A||Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending|
|B||Statewide Forfeiture Reports|
|B||Accessibility of Forfeiture Records|
|C *||Penalties for Failure to File a Report|
|F||Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts|
For full transparency and accountability grades, visit www.ij.org/TransparencyReportCards.
Forfeitures Under Florida Law: Key Facts
From 2017 to 2018, half of Florida’s currency forfeitures were worth less than $4,500. Florida’s filing fee and bond requirement for law enforcement make forfeitures under $2,500 riskier, likely encouraging a focus on higher-value property.
From 2017 to 2018, nearly all of Florida’s forfeitures were split between vehicles and currency.
Civil vs. CriminalUNKNOWN
Florida does not report whether forfeitures are processed under civil or criminal forfeiture law.
From 2017 to 2018, Florida law enforcement spent $74 million from forfeiture funds—45% on “other” expenses, mostly indiscernible or blank in reports.
Property- and agency-level forfeiture data were obtained via public records requests to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Figures for 2009 through 2014 represent proceeds only for FDLE rather than for agencies statewide, while figures for 2017 and 2018 represent all Florida agencies’ revenue, excluding interest. FDLE did not provide records in response to a request for 2015 and 2016 forfeiture records. The percentage of reported vehicles may include additional types of conveyances. Expenditures may include mandatory community program spending of 25% of forfeiture proceeds. All figures are in fiscal years. Equitable sharing data are from DOJ’s and Treasury’s annual forfeiture reports. Due to differences in reporting and accounting practices, state figures may not match aggregate numbers produced by the state or cover the same 12-month period as the federal data.
Standard of proof: Beyond a reasonable doubt.
Fla. Stat. § 932.704(8); Hudson v. City of Sunrise, 237 So. 3d 1031, 1034 n.2 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2018).
Innocent owner burden: Government.
Fla. Stat. § 932.703(7); 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).
Financial incentive: Up to 75%.
Fla. Stat. § 932.7055(5)(c)(3).