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Seizure of a Vehicle for Forfeiture

What happens with law enforcement officers seize your car, truck, SUV, van, motorcycle, or aircraft after alleging it was used as an instrumentality in the commission of a felony under state or federal law?

Florida law prohibits using a motor vehicle for transporting, carrying, or conveying any contraband article in, upon, or by means of any property, motor vehicle, or aircraft, under Section 932.702 of the Florida Statutes.

For this reason, law enforcement officers sometimes seize a motor vehicle for forfeiture claiming that it was unlawfully used to facilitate the “transportation, carriage, conveyance, concealment, receipt, possession, purchase, sale, barter, exchange, or giving away of any contraband article.” § 932.702, Fla. Stat.

In only limited circumstances can a motor vehicle be subjected to forfeiture as an instrumentality in the commission of a felony, if the vehicle was merely used to transport the individual to a site of criminal activity. See Deckham v. State, 478 So. 2d 347, 348-49 (Fla. 1985).

Attorneys for Vehicle Seizures in Florida

If your vehicle was seized for forfeiture by a state or federal law enforcement officer, then contact Leslie Sammis, a civil asset forfeiture attorney in Tampa, FL, at the Sammis Law Firm. When it comes to seizures for forfeitures, our attorneys fight to get the car, truck, SUV, van, motorcycle, or aircraft back quickly.

Our main office is located in downtown Tampa, FL. We also have a second office located in New Port Richey, FL, across from the courthouse at the West Pasco Judicial Center.

We can help you get your vehicle back quickly in Tampa in Hillsborough County, St. Petersburg and Clearwater in Pasco County, New Port Richey and Dade City in Pasco County, Brooksville in Hernando County, and Bartow in Polk County, FL.

Call 813-250-0500.


Vehicle Seizures under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act

Under Section 932.701(2)(a) of the Florida Statutes, the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, a contraband article can include personal property that was used in the commission of a felony.

Florida law prohibits concealing or possessing any contraband article used as an instrumentality in the commission of any felony or violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act pursuant to Section 932.702 of the Florida Statutes.

For this reason, any vessel, vehicle, or other personal property which has been or is being used in violation of any provision of Section 932.702, Fla. Stat., is subject to forfeiture. § 932.703(1)(a), Fla. Stat.

Throughout Florida, law enforcement officers seize for forfeiture vehicles allegedly used in a variety of crimes including drug trafficking, theft, prostitution, racing, and DUI.

Under Florida Statute 316.80(3), any conveyance or vehicle, fuel tank, related fuel, and other equipment described in subsection (1) shall be subject to seizure and forfeiture as provided by the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.


Vehicles Used to Transport a Person to the Site of Criminal Activity

Under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, “[i]n any incident in which possession of any contraband article defined in s. 932.701(2)(a) constitutes a felony, the vessel, motor vehicle, . . . [or] other personal property . . . in or on which such contraband article is located at the time of seizure shall be contraband subject to forfeiture.”

Pursuant to § 932.703(4), Fla. Stat., “[i]t shall be presumed in the manner provided in s. 90.302(2) that the vessel, motor vehicle, . . . [or] other personal property . . . in which or on which such contraband article is located at the time of seizure is being used or was attempted or intended to be used in a manner to facilitate the transportation, carriage, conveyance, concealment, receipt, possession, purchase, sale, barter, exchange, or giving away of a contraband article defined in s. 932.701(2).”

The authorities might allege that the mere presence of the fraudulent illicit bulk currency, money orders, or cashier’s checks in the vehicle created a presumption that the vehicle was used or was attempted or intended to be used to transport, conceal, or possess a contraband article, which would warrant the forfeiture of the vehicle.


Vehicles Forfeitures are Common

The seizure and attempted forfeiture of vehicles are common by law enforcement officers, particularly in Hillsborough County or in the City of Tampa. In Hillsborough County forfeiture actions can be initiated by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office or the City of Tampa Police Department.

If it can be alleged that your property was used to transport drugs, such as a car, truck, semi-tractor, or another vehicle, the state or city can attempt to forfeit the property as punishment to deter crime and as a means of compensating the government entity for the crime.

Even if you are the owner of the property, and you were not involved in the crime, the property may still be forfeited under certain circumstances unless you assert your rights within strict time periods.

Local law enforcement agencies in the Tampa Bay Area of Florida may also attempt to hold your vehicle through an “investigative hold,” and require you to pay $25.00 a day in storage fees while the “investigative hold” is pending. You have certain rights under Florida Statute Section 713.78 for a statutory lien for towing and storage to receive notice.

You can also file a complaint in County Court where the vehicle is being held if you believe the “investigative hold” is improper under Florida law.

Upon filing the complaint, the owner or lienholder may have her vehicle released upon posting a cash or surety bond equal to the number of charges for towing and storage to ensure payment in the event his lawsuit does not prevail.

Upon posting the bond and payment of clerk fees, the clerk of the court shall issue a certificate notifying the lienor of the bond and directing the lienor to release the vehicle. When the vehicle is released, the owner should give a receipt to the company that towed or stored the vehicle listing any claims for damages to the vehicle.


This article was last updated on Friday, October 9, 2020.

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