Pubdate: Wed, 17 Feb 2016
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2016 The Tribune Co.
Author: Grady Judd, Special to The Tampa Tribune
Note: Grady Judd is the sheriff of Polk County.
Page: A11


Taxpayers beware: There is a dangerously naive proposal making the 
rounds in Tallahassee. Some politicians want to significantly damage 
Florida's successful Contraband Forfeiture Act. This is the law that 
prevents criminals from profiting from their illegal acts. Just like 
we prohibit killers from profiting by writing books about their 
crimes, the civil contraband forfeiture law in Florida allows law 
enforcement agencies to seize assets that are linked to criminal 
activity with full due process protections for the accused.

Bills sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes and Reps. Larry Metz and Matt 
Caldwell (Senate Bill 1044 and House Bill 889) would make it more 
difficult, and sometimes impossible, to seize criminals' illegally 
obtained assets. As a result, more crooks will get to keep their 
ill-gotten money while you work, pay your taxes, and now will have to 
pay more to ensure law enforcement has the necessary tools to fight 
and reduce crime. Why should hardworking taxpayers pay more in taxes 
while criminals who sell drugs to our kids get to keep their 
dishonestly acquired money?

HB 889 and SB 1044 are being promoted as 'reform' legislation that 
will protect the property rights of innocent people, but the reality 
is that our existing law already has extensive citizen protections 
built in. Don't be misled.

Under current law, the court must find probable cause that the 
property was used for criminal activity in violation of the act. Then 
law enforcement must prove in front of a jury (unless the defendant 
waives a jury trial) that the contraband article or cash was linked 
to a crime by clear and convincing evidence. Florida is one of 11 
states in the nation that have a 'clear and convincing proof 
standard,' which is the highest civil standard of proof and higher 
than most other states.

Right now, this civil forfeiture process works well and benefits 
taxpayers. Law enforcement, with ample checks and balances, is able 
to use proceeds from forfeitures to fund school resource officers, 
crime prevention and safe neighborhood programs, drug abuse education 
and prevention programs, or for other restricted law enforcement 
purposes. These resources cannot be used to meet normal operating 
budget expenses proceeds are used to purchase equipment and materials 
that enhance law enforcement's ability to fight crime and prevent 
drug abuse. These valuable resources provide local taxpayers direct 
value by lowering the overall cost of funding local law enforcement.

Why do these politicians want to change the law that is among the 
most effective and protective - in the nation? It boils down to one 
thing: knee-jerk 'anti-police' political nonsense.

Frankly, politicians don't have to trust the police regarding civil 
forfeitures - trust the courts, the law and juries. There are 
multiple built-in protections in the civil forfeiture process that 
protect innocent owners of property seized during a criminal investigation.

Some in the Florida Legislature want to make it tougher on law 
enforcement and easier on criminals when it comes to contraband 
forfeiture. So unless you want to pay more taxes and let criminals 
keep their dirty money, please call or write your legislators today 
and tell them you stand with law enforcement and support Florida's 
successful Contraband Forfeiture Act.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom