Florida’s civil forfeiture laws provide some protections for property owners but also give law enforcement a large incentive to use forfeiture—and agencies appear to do just that. The government must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the property was related to criminal activity and thus can be forfeited, a higher standard than most states but still less than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard required for a criminal conviction. Also, in Florida owners are not presumed guilty; instead, the government bears the burden in an innocent owner defense.Unfortunately, though, law enforcement in Florida still receives 85 percent of the funds generated from civil forfeiture. As a result, Florida law enforcement makes substantial use of civil forfeiture at the state level, just as it does through equitable sharing. In a mere three-year period (2001-2003), the state took in more than $100 million in forfeiture, and Florida law enforcement received anywhere from $16 million to $48 million per year in the 2000s through equitable sharing. (These counts may overlap, as it is not clear whether Florida included equitable sharing revenue in its response to information requests.)This expansive use of civil forfeiture has not only benefitted law enforcement institutionally, it has also led to personal gain. In 2003, for instance, it was reported that top Tampa Bay police brass were keeping seized cars for their own use. The seized fleet consisted of some 42 cars, including a Lincoln Navigator, a Ford Expedition, and, Police Chief Bennie Holder’s favorite, a $38,000 Chevy Tahoe.
1 Blumner, R. E. (2003, August 17). Police too addicted to lure of easy money. St. Petersburg Times, p. 7D.
Forfeitures as Reported to LEMAS (Drug-related only)
Assets Forfeited per
Law Enforcement Agency
Equitable Sharing Proceeds from the Assets Forfeiture Fund (AFF)
Proceeds Returned to State
Average per Year
Freedom of Information Data
Reports of forfeitures from all law enforcement agencies