Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott must now decide whether to sign or veto a civil asset forfeiture reform bill that will have big implications for law enforcement.
The bill, which passed unanimously by the state’s House Tuesday, is among the toughest reforms in the country. Civil asset forfeiture is a practice in which police can seize property and keep it even if they don’t convict charge the owner with a crime. Then, the owner must go through the difficult, and often unsuccessful process to get their property – whether it’s a vehicle, cash or home – back from the police.
The new bill would require an arrest before property could be seized in most cases. To deter frivolous seizures, the bill requires police pay a $1,000 filing fee and give the person they seized from $1,500 if a judge finds the police did not have probable cause to seize the property. On top of that, the victim of a frivolous seizure can get up to $2,000 in attorney fees.
A key provision of the bill would require the state to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” property was involved in criminal wrongdoing, the highest legal burden. So police can seize property, but to keep it they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt it is criminal. States commonly have a lower burden of proof, if they have one at all.