Florida Highway Patrol’s Interdiction Unit
If your money, vehicle, or other property was seized by a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), we can help you get it back. We fight seizures for forfeiture throughout Florida. Attorneys throughout Florida have referred us cases and sometimes we co-counsel with those attorneys on the case.
When troopers with the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) seize property for forfeiture, the detention often begins with a routine traffic stop. When it comes to the seizure and forfeiture of contraband, the troopers with FHP must follow Policy Number 12.03 which was created on 02/01/96 and last revised on 09/26/18.
Understanding their standard operating procedures is the first step in fighting an unlawful seizure for forfeiture. The policy establishes the procedures needed to ensure uniformity for the processing and handling of items seized and subject to forfeiture and ensures that the Division adheres to the provisions of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
Pursuant to Policy Number 12.03.03, it is the policy of The Florida Highway Patrol to ensure that in all seizures made under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act (“the Act”), Sections 932.701-7062, Florida Statutes, that FHP troopers adhere to federal and state constitutional limitations regarding an individual’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, including the use of illegal stops, coercive consent, or biased policing.
The Florida Highway Patrol will actively seize contraband to include vehicles, currency, and other property that is subject to forfeiture under state and federal law when the forfeiture of such property would deter or prevent criminal activity. FHP’s policy is applicable to motor vehicles, vessels, and aircraft.
In the case of unclaimed evidence or property, DHSMV Policy 10.01 will be followed. Currency is deposited in an FHP authorized account after all the procedures for unclaimed currency have been followed and the Troop Legal Advisor has been contacted.
Attorney for FHP Seizures for Forfeiture in Florida
If your money, vehicle, or other valuable property was seized for forfeiture by the Florida Highway Patrol, then contact an experienced criminal asset forfeiture attorney in Tampa, FL, at Sammis Law Firm.
Most of these seizures occur during routine traffic stops or after an arrest. Our attorneys represent clients after an arrest or in civil asset forfeiture proceedings even when criminal charges are ever filed.
We represent any person in possession of the seized property, other claimants, bona fide lienholders, and innocent owners. If you received a notice of seizure, then you only have fifteen days to demand an adversarial preliminary hearing (“APD”). If the property is not returned prior to the APH, then we can also represent you during any hearing or trial in the circuit court regarding the seized property.
If you are an attorney, contact us about a referral or working as co-counsel in the case. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss the best ways to fight for the return of your property after a seizure for forfeiture by a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol.
What Happens When FHP Seizes a Vehicle or Money?
If Florida Highway Patrol seizes your vehicle or money, they should issue you a receipt on the spot. They might also issue you a notice or mail it within a few days after the seizure. The notice tells you that you have 15 days to request an adversarial preliminary hearing in writing. An attorney can help you file the request for the APH within the 15 day deadline.
The case is initiated with the filing of an Ex Parte Application for Probable Cause Determination of Seized Property. The attorney for the agency that seized the property will also file a proposed Ex Parte Order Finding Probable Cause for Seized Property.
If you fail to request an APH, then pursuant to Section 932.704(5)(b), if not parties entitled to notice request an adversarial preliminary hearing, then upon receipt of the complaint, the court will review it and make an additional probable cause determination.
After the judge reviews the application, the judge usually signs the order finding probable cause.
The attorney for the agency will then file a complaint called a “verified complaint for probable cause and for final order of forfeiture.” When the attorney for Florida Highway Patrol seized the property, the complaint is filed by Ms. Christie S. Utt, General Counsel or an Assistant General Counsel working under Ms. Utt.
Any person with an interest in the property will usually be served with a copy of the complaint for forfeiture and directions to the claimant on how to respond.
Purpose of FHP’s Policy on Seizures for Forfeiture
Pursuant to Policy Number 12.03.01, the purpose of FHP’s policy on seizures for forfeiture establishes procedures in regard to seizing, reporting, and processing items subject to forfeiture.
No vehicle, currency, or other property will be seized under Chapter 12 unless the property is subject to forfeiture under state or federal law, and the
forfeiture of the property would deter or prevent the use of such property for criminal purposes.
The seizure of such contraband is authorized in Chapter 321 of Florida Statutes, as well as Chapter 322, 893, and 932, Florida Statutes. The Division of Florida Highway Patrol adopted by reference the following guides:
- “Guidelines and Training Procedures to be Used by State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies and State Attorneys in Implementing the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act” developed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement pursuant to Section 932.704, Florida Statutes;
- “U.S. Department of Treasury: Guide to Equitable Sharing for Foreign Countries and Federal, State, and Local Law Enforcement Agencies”; and
- “U.S. Department of Justice: Guide to Equitable Sharing for State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies”.
Final Court Action in FHP Forfeiture Cases
If at the adversarial preliminary hearing or at the conclusion of the judicial process the claimant prevails, the seized property will be released to the lawful owner. No administrative or maintenance costs will be assessed against the claimant.
If a vehicle or other property is released to the lawful owner, the actual costs of towing, storage, and maintenance of the property will be borne by the Division. In any instance where the property is released, the Evidence/Property Custodian will ensure that a property release memorandum has been secured from the Office of General Counsel.
Upon final disposition of forfeiture proceedings, the Office of General Counsel will send a memorandum and the court order to:
- Bureau of Accounting;
- If the case is drug-related, copies will also be provided to the Criminal Interdiction Unit Coordinator;
- Troop Commander (Copies will be provided to the respective District Commander, Evidence/Property Custodian, and arresting/seizing FHP trooper); and
- The appropriate Chief.
Return of Property Seized by FHP
It is the policy of the Florida Highway Patrol to provide for the prompt release of the seized property when a legitimate claim has been determined.
If it is determined that a forfeiture proceeding will not be pursued or the claimant prevails at an adversarial preliminary hearing or in a forfeiture trial, prompt arrangements must be made for the return of the property.
The appropriate Chief will notify the Troop Commander and the District Commander shall instruct the E/P Custodian to make the following arrangements:
- Request that the claimant and their attorney, if the claimant has one, sign and return the Owner Release Agreement (HSMV 61916) for the return of any type of property. If the request is by mail, send it by certified mail, return receipt requested. No such agreements are necessary when the claimant prevails in a forfeiture hearing. Before returning a vehicle, the claimant will be responsible for any towing or storage fees.
- Upon receipt of the completed release form, email a copy to the appropriate Chief and respective Troop Commander. For currency that had been deposited in the bank, a request for a warrant will also be attached to the release form. The appropriate Chief will then forward the warrant request to the Bureau of Accounting for payment to the claimant.
- If the claimant does not respond, or if the notice is returned unclaimed, treat the property as abandoned property or if appropriate, unclaimed evidence, and follow the procedures outlined in the Florida Highway Patrol Evidence/Property Procedures Manual and DHSMV Policy number 10.01.
- If the claimant prevails at an adversarial preliminary hearing or in a forfeiture trial, the property must be released within five (5) days. The Office of General Counsel will notify the appropriate Chief and copy the Troop Commander of this order. The Office of General Counsel and the Evidence/Property custodian will make the necessary arrangements to release the property within five (5) days
Definitions for Florida’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Cases
Pursuant to 12.03.04(E), the term “FORFEITURE PROCEEDING” is defined as “a hearing or trial in which the circuit court or jury determines whether the rights to, interest in and title to the contraband article(s) seized will be forfeited to the seizing agency.”
Pursuant to 12.03.04(D), the term “CONTRABAND ARTICLE” is defined as “currency or other property, including any controlled substances, employed or likely to be employed in criminal activity or acquired by proceeds of criminal activity.
Pursuant to 12.03.04(G), the term “MONETARY INSTRUMENT” is defined to include “coins or currency; a traveler’s check; a personal check; a bank check; a cashier’s check; a money order; a bank draft; an investment security or negotiable instrument in bearer form or in other form such that title passes upon delivery; a prepaid or stored value card or other device that is the equivalent of money and can be used to obtain cash, property, or services;
or gold, silver or platinum bullion or coins.”
Pursuant to 12.03.04(H), the term “PERSON ENTITLED TO NOTICE” is defined to include “any owner, entity, bona fide lienholder, or person in possession of the property subject to forfeiture when seized, who is known to the seizing agency after a diligent search and inquiry.”
Pursuant to 12.03.04(C), the term “CLAIMANT” is defined to mean “any party who had proprietary interest in property subject to forfeiture and has standing to challenge such forfeiture, including owners, registered owners, bona fide lienholders, and titleholders.
Pursuant to 12.03.04(B), the term “BONA FIDE LIENHOLDER” is defined as “the holder of a lien perfected pursuant to applicable law.”
Pursuant to 12.03.04(F), the term “INNOCENT OWNER” is defined as “a claimant/owner of a contraband article who establishes that he or she had no actual knowledge that the property seized was being employed or was likely to be employed in criminal activity.”
Pursuant to 12.03.04(A), the term “ADVERSARIAL PRELIMINARY HEARING” is defined to mean “an initial hearing in which the court determines whether probable cause existed to seize the contraband article because it was being employed or likely to be employed in criminal activity in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.”
When Can FHP Seize a “Contraband Article”?
Under Policy Number 12.03.06(A), to be considered contraband article(s), the seizing FHP trooper must have probable cause to believe the property to be seized was used, attempted to be used, or intended to be used in violation of the Act, Florida Statutes. Ultimately, to prevail, the agency will have to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Other than a violation of Section 322.34(9), Florida Statutes, the seizure is based on the violation of an applicable statute prohibiting felony criminal conduct where an arrest for the offense had occurred including:
- Aggravated Battery with a Vehicle;
- Leaving the Scene of a Crash with Injury/Death;
- Fleeing and Eluding;
- DUI felonies (e.g., 3 DUI within 10 years, 4th DUI, DUI Manslaughter);
- Driver license felonies (e.g., DWLSR permanent or lifetime revocations);
- Drug felonies; and
- VIN, title, or odometer fraud.
From Whom Can FHP Seize Property?
A seizure may occur if the owner of the property is arrested for a felony criminal offense that forms the basis for determining that the property is a contraband article under Sections 932.701, or 322.34(9), Florida Statutes, or one or more of the following circumstances apply:
- The property is a monetary instrument as defined in Section 932.703, Florida Statutes.
- The owner of the property agrees to be a confidential informant as defined in Section 914.28, Florida Statutes; or
- An individual who does not own the property is arrested for a criminal offense that forms the basis for determining that the property is a contraband article under Section 932.701, Florida Statutes, and the owner of the property had actual knowledge of the criminal activity;
- The owner of the property is a fugitive from justice or is deceased; or
- The owner of the property cannot be identified after a diligent search, or the person in possession of the property denies ownership and the owner of the property cannot be identified by means that are available to the employee or agent of the seizing agency at the time of seizure.
FHP’s Procedures in Civil Asset Forfeiture Proceedings
After the FHP trooper decides to seize the property, the trooper must immediately notify a supervisor and contact a Troop Legal Advisor to determine if there is probable cause to seize the property.
If the Troop Legal Advisor and the trooper determine there is probable cause to believe the property was used, attempted to be used, or was intended to be used in violation of the Act, the property will be seized, unless it meets an exception listed under section 12.03.06(B)(6) relating to inoperable vehicles, or 12.03.06(C)(1) relating to the minimum amount of currency to be seized.
If property is seized, it must be submitted to the Evidence/Property control function in accordance with the Florida Highway Patrol Evidence/Property Procedures Manual. If a vehicle is seized, it will be towed and stored in accordance with section 12.03.06(B)(7).
By end of the FHP trooper’s shift, an email notification, including all documentation pertaining to the contraband article(s) seized must be made by the seizing FHP trooper to the:
- FHP trooper’s chain of command up to and including the Deputy Director;
- The Troop Legal Advisor who determined that probable cause existed for the seizure.
The trooper that seized the property should send an email notification that must include the following information:
- All known person’s with a potential claim to the seized property;
- County in which the seizure occurred;
- Total amount or value of the seized contraband item;
- Detailed description of the property seized;
- Any criminal charges at the time of seizure;
- Date of initial seizure; and
- FHP case number.
Felony Forfeiture Report Checklist (HSMV 61074)
If a preliminary determination is made to proceed with the forfeiture, a Felony Forfeiture Report Checklist (HSMV 61074) and associated documents must be completed within 72 hours following the seizure of property.
A supervisor must ensure that this preliminary report packet is forwarded to the Office of General Counsel. The appropriate Chief, in consultation with the Office of General Counsel will determine whether to institute a forfeiture action.
In addition to the Felony Forfeiture Report Checklist (HSMV 61074), the following documents must be attached to the completed Forfeiture Report:
- Arrest Report (HSMV 60005) and/or Offense Report (HSMV 60009), documenting a nexus of the contraband to criminal activity;
- Photos of contraband article and/or vehicle; and
- For ongoing investigations, if the contraband property is seized before the investigation is completed, a copy of the Probable Cause Affidavit must be forwarded as an attachment.
The trooper that seized the property must ensure that copies of the applicable forms are attached as outlined on the Felony Forfeiture Report Checklist (HSMV 61074). The checklist will serve as the cover page for the packet. The packet will include the following information:
- Case number.
- Name of the seizing FHP trooper.
- Include contact information for follow-up questions from the Office of General Counsel.
- Date and time of seizure.
- This refers to the time the contraband article was actually taken into custody and must be exact, being cognizant of time and date changes at the midnight hour; it must also include whether it is eastern or central time.
- Copies of any reports.
- Including all booking reports, probable cause packets, DUI packets, etc.
- Type of property seized.
- Property must be described in detail. For vehicles, provide the year, make, model, VIN, current odometer reading and condition;
- If currency is seized, indicate the exact amount;
- The Evidence/Property receipt must have two signatures verifying the amount of currency;
- If deposited, a copy of the deposit slip must also be attached to the case report that includes the FHP case number and Evidence/Property control number.
- Forfeiture Report – Items to be included (only if applicable), if not previously submitted:
- Inventory and Vehicle Storage Receipt (HSMV 61801)
- Evidence/Property Receipt (HSMV 61802)
- Arrest or Offense Report Sworn Narrative (HSMV 60005, 60009, or local county sworn narrative)
- Seized US Currency Inventory (HSMV 60089)
- Documentation of controlled substances weight
- Drug Interdiction Reporting Form (HSMV 60105)
- Drug/Contraband discovery location drawing or photos
- FHP Consent to Search Form (HSMV 61061).
- If a search is conducted pursuant to consent, this form should be completed prior to the search.
- When possible, obtaining consent to search should be documented on MVR.
- FHP Waiver of Claim to Assets and Waiver of Right to Notice of Seizure Form(s) (HSMV 61076).
- If a person waives rights to any of the seized property, this form must be completed and attached as part of the forfeiture packet.
- Criminal histories of all involved persons.
- Includes the owner, driver and all passengers and anyone else linked, directly or indirectly, to the seizure.
- The FCIC/NCIC criminal history and any active wants/warrants should be requested from the Regional Communications Center (RCC).
- The criminal history should be saved/uploaded as an encrypted file to the designated forfeiture related folder on the Troop network, with the rest of the case file.
- Interview of “Owner”.
- If the driver or person in possession of the seized property is not the owner, the seizing FHP trooper must investigate whether the owner had actual knowledge that the property was being employed or likely to be employed in criminal activity.
- If possible, the owner must be interviewed the same day. Information gleaned from the investigation of the owner must be attached as part of the Sworn Narrative or as a Supplemental Report.
- Pictures of the property.
- A digital camera should be used.
- Attach copies to the case report.
- Estimated value of the property.
- Office of General Counsel will research the trade-in value of a vehicle or other property.
- Registration/Owner Information.
- For vehicles, request the vehicle registration record from the Regional Communications Center and attach it to the case report. It should list the name and address of the registered owner.
- In addition, the owner’s contact phone number should be added if available. If found in the vehicle or in possession of the suspect, copies of the Bill of Sale, registration certificate, and rental/lease agreement should be attached to the case report.
- If immediately available, lienholder information must also be provided. Otherwise, Office of General Counsel will research.
- Copy of the vehicle towing bill.
- It needs to be a copy of the actual tow bill, whether paid or outstanding, indicating amount owed, name of towing company, address and phone number. Attach it to the case report.
- Other witness officers/agencies or those involved and contact information.
A District Supervisor must promptly review, save/upload an electronic or scanned copy of the packet to the designated forfeiture related folder on the Troop’s network drive, and send a notification email to the Office of General Counsel at FHPForfeiture@flhsmv.gov. The original documents will be retained in the district office.
When any of the documents listed in the case report section above are applicable to the case, but not initially submitted (and indicated as such on the Forfeiture Report Checklist), the FHP trooper will promptly forward the missing items to the District Lieutenant.
Upon receipt, the lieutenant will promptly place the items on the forfeiture-related Troop network drive, and notify the Office of General Counsel as well as the remaining chain of command up to the Chief.
As designated by the Director, the appropriate Chief, in consultation with the Office of General Counsel, will make the final decision whether to
initiate a forfeiture action. If the decision is made to proceed with forfeiture, the Chief will promptly notify the Troop Legal Advisor.
Notice of Seizure and Right to Adversarial Preliminary Hearing
Upon notification to institute an action, the Troop Legal Advisor will provide Notice of Seizure and Right to Adversarial Preliminary Hearing
Form (HSMV 61023) to all persons entitled to notice.
The Notice of Seizure and Right to Adversarial Preliminary Hearing form will be completed and sent via certified mail, return receipt requested, within five (5) working days of the seizure to all persons entitled to notice.
The Troop Legal Advisor will make a diligent effort to identify all persons entitled to notice. The notice must be mailed to each person entitled to notice. If two or more persons reside at the same address, a separate notice must be sent to each person. The Office of General Counsel will keep all “return receipt requested” cards.
Division of Motorist Services Seizure Notification Form
The Office of General Counsel will notify the Division of Motorist Services within 24 hours of a vehicle seizure, via the Division of Motorist Services Seizure Notification Form (HSMV 61073).
The Division of Motorist Services Seizure Notification form will be emailed to DMV-Enforcement@flhsmv.gov in order to place a hold on a vehicle’s registration and title.
The Troop Legal Advisor will file a motion for an order finding probable cause with the appropriate circuit court. If the court finds that there is probable cause to continue with the seizure, the Troop Legal Advisor will commence forfeiture proceedings.
Verified Complaint for Forfeiture
When the appropriate Chief elects to pursue forfeiture, the Office of General Counsel is required to file a Verified Complaint in circuit court within 45 days from the date of seizure.
The Verified Complaint adopts and incorporates, by reference, the sworn affidavit from the arresting FHP trooper. It is critical that the complete forfeiture packet be provided to the appropriate Chief and the Office of General Counsel without delay to ensure that the Office of General Counsel has sufficient time to prepare all of the necessary pleadings to be filed in the circuit court.
The Troop Legal Advisor who prepares the Verified Complaint will forward the Complaint and the Verified Affidavit to the FHP trooper for his/her review and notarized signature on the Verified Affidavit. The FHP trooper will immediately return it by email to the Troop Legal Advisor.
The trooper who is primarily responsible for the seizure of the property must cooperate with the Office of General Counsel toward the favorable disposition of the case. During the pendency of the case, the Troop Legal Advisor will keep the appropriate Chief apprised of any pertinent events.
If a settlement is proposed, the Troop Legal Advisor will notify the appropriate Chief. The Chief and Troop Legal Advisor will obtain approval from the Director or designee for all settlements.
Once approved by the Director, the Office of General Counsel or a Chief will obtain approval from the Executive Director or designee for all settlements.
Approval of settlements will be in the form of an agreement prepared by the Troop Legal Advisor and signed by the Director and the Executive Director.
If, at the conclusion of a case, a court order directs that currency is to be returned to a claimant, the appropriate Chief will, by memorandum, direct the Bureau of Accounting, Fixed Assets and Inventory Section, to obtain a state warrant from the Office of the Comptroller for payment.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Reporting in Florida – Visit the website of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find the reporting requirements for civil asset forfeiture cases in Florida. As required by Florida Statute Section 932.7061, every law enforcement agency must submit an annual report to the Department of Law Enforcement by December 1 of each year. The application for Civil Asset Forfeiture Cases requires access to CJNET.
The FHP Criminal Interdiction Unit patrols Florida highways to intercept drug couriers and other criminal activity. pic.twitter.com/VgrfXMWnSQ
— FLHSMV (@FLHSMV) March 13, 2017
This article was last updated on Thursday, January 13, 2022.