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Florida

Florida

Florida earns a C for its civil forfeiture laws:

Standard of Proof

Higher bar to forfeit: Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that property is connected to a crime.

Innocent Owner Burden

Stronger protections for the innocent: The government must prove third-party owners knew about criminal activity connected to their property.

Financial Incentive

Large profit incentive: Up to 75% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.

Recent Reforms

  • (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.

Recommendations

  • 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
2000–2019

Year Florida Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 Unknown $16,004,502 $9,027,000 $25,031,502
2001 Unknown $48,910,328 $8765,000 $57,675,328
2002 Unknown $15,271,472 $14,350,000 $29,621,472
2003 Unknown $21,911,302 $5080,000 $26,991,302
2004 Unknown $15,632,236 $4,648,000 $20,280,236
2005 Unknown $18,309,636 $6,054,000 $24,363,636
2006 Unknown $16,006,014 $10,477,000 $26,483,014
2007 Unknown $29,578,608 $5878,000 $35,456,608
2008 Unknown $34,198,199 $5289,000 $39,487,199
2009 $33,558 $36,976,546 $5148,000 $42,158,104
2010 $110,356,729 $24,226,665 $11,853,000 $146,436,394
2011 $195,744 $37,430,257 $5114,000 $42,740,001
2012 $1,485,135 $52,064,672 $8369,000 $61,918,807
2013 $1,435,659 $22,665,566 $4,878,000 $28,979,225
2014 $3,563,601 $17,045,912 $19,828,000 $40,437,513
2015 Unknown $17,127,331 $11,619,000 $28,746,331
2016 Unknown $16,894,650 $6,084,000 $22,978,650
2017 $28,955,458 $14,905,901 $3,174,000 $47,035,359
2018 $246,170,285 $14,875,107 $4,947,000 $265,992,392
2019 Unavailable $15,150,002 $10,736,000 $25,886,002
Totals $392,196,169 $485,184,906 $161,318,000 $1,038,699,075

All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation. Different state revenue sources for 2009–2014 and 2017–2018.

Florida's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

C

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

A

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

B

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

B

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

C*

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

F

* Agencies must file even when they have nothing to report.

For full transparency and accountability grades, visit www.ij.org/TransparencyReportCards.

Forfeitures Under Florida Law: Key Facts

Median Value

$4,500

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.

Property Types

From 2017 to 2018, nearly all of Florida’s forfeitures were split between vehicles and currency.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

Florida does not report whether forfeitures are processed under civil or criminal forfeiture law.

Expenditures

From 2017 to 2018, Florida law enforcement spent $74 million from forfeiture funds—45% on “other” expenses, mostly indiscernible or blank in reports.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

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.

Legal Sources

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).

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