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Seizures for Forfeiture in Pinellas County, FL

Each local, state, or federal law enforcement agency in Pinellas County, FL, handles seizures and forfeitures differently. The rules depend on whether a state or federal agency initiates the forfeiture.

For seizure for forfeiture under state law, you should immediately retain an attorney to demand an adversarial preliminary hearing (APH) within fifteen (15) days of the seizure.

If you want the property back, there is never a good reason not to file the request for the APH as provided by Section 932.703(3), Florida Statutes.

The APH demand requires an attorney for the agency to schedule a hearing with witnesses and evidence within ten days.

At the hearing, the agency that took the asset must either establish probable cause that the property “was used in violation of the [Act]” as explained in § 932.701(2)(f) or return the property.

Attorney for Seizures and Forfeitures in Pinellas County, FL

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm help clients get their money or other valuable property back after a seizure in Pinellas County, FL.

Let our civil asset forfeiture attorneys help you demand an adversarial preliminary hearing (APD), immediately after the seizure.

We can also help you file a demand for the return of property or an answer to the complaint for forfeiture.

We understand how recent legislative changes in Florida make it easier to get your property back quickly.

We also know how to preserve any claim that the agency that seized your property should be ordered to pay your attorney fees, costs, and damages.

Our office for Pinellas County is located at 14010 Roosevelt Blvd Suite 701, Clearwater, FL 33762-3820. 

Call 727-210-7004.

The Adversarial Preliminary Hearing (APH) in Pinellas County, FL

During criminal investigations, deputies and detectives with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies might seize U.S. Currency (cash or money) or other valuable property including vehicles and cell phones.

If the property is seized under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act (the Act), §§ 932.701-.706, Fla. Stat., you should receive a receipt and notice of seizure.

The notice explains that you have a right to demand an adversarial preliminary hearing (APH) within 15 days of the seizure or when you received notice.

Don’t wait. Act quickly if you want the property back. Contact an attorney about immediately demanding the adversarial preliminary hearing (APH).

If you don’t demand the APH within 15 days, it becomes much harder to get the property back.

What Happens at the APH?

The agency might agree to return your property to you to avoid the adversarial preliminary hearing.

If not, then at the APH, the attorney for the agency involved in the seizure must present sufficient evidence to establish that it had probable cause to believe that the property was a contraband article.

The agency’s attorney will usually call the officer that seized the property to testify.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court has to decide under the totality of the circumstances, whether the agency established probable cause under the Florida Contraband Property Act.

If the trial court finds that insufficient evidence supports the seizure, then the court will order that the property is immediately returned.

If the trial court finds that probable cause exists, then it will permit the agency to retain possession of the property pending further order from the court.

The Complaint for Forfeiture in Pinellas County, FL

If you do nothing after the seizure, then the agency that seized the money or property will file a complaint for forfeiture alleging in part the property is “a contraband article as defined in [s]ection 937.701(2)(a), Florida Statutes.”

Your attorney will then file an answer to the complaint for forfeiture.

Section 932.701(2)(a)(5) defines “contraband article” in pertinent part to mean:

“[a]ny . . . vehicle of any kind . . . which was used or was attempted to be used as an instrumentality in the commission of . . . any felony . . . or which [was] acquired by proceeds obtained as a result of a violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.”

Section 932.701(2)(g) defines “forfeiture proceeding” to mean:

“a hearing or trial in which the court or jury determines whether the subject property shall be forfeited.”

Awards for Interest, Costs, Attorney’s Fees, and Damages

The Florida legislature recently amended section 932.703(1)(d)(2) of the Act to provide, among other things that:

“[u]nless otherwise expressly agreed to in writing by the parties, the agency seeking forfeiture of the seized property is responsible for any damage to the property and any storage fees or maintenance costs applicable to the property.” Ch. 2016-179, § 2, at 1996-98, Laws of Fla.

This means that even if the agency files a notice or motion for voluntary dismissal, you can still be awarded damages.

If you prevail at motion or trial, your attorney can also help you assert a claim that you should be awarded:

  • damages for the agency’s seizure and improper storage of the property under section 932.704(9)(b);
  • reasonable trial attorney’s fees and costs to the claimant if the court finds that the seizing agency has not proceeded at any stage in the proceedings in good faith or that the agency’s action which precipitated the forfeiture proceedings was a gross abuse of the agency’s discretion under section 932.704(10);
  • attorney’s fees and costs under section 932.704(10), which provides for fees and costs when “the seizing agency has not proceeded at any stage of the proceedings in good faith or that the seizing agency’s action which precipitated the forfeiture proceedings was a gross abuse of the agency’s discretion.”

Administrative Order No. 2016-039 PA/PI-CIR

The local rules for forfeiture proceedings are governed by Administrative Order No. 2016-039 PA/PI-CIR.

Within ten (10) business days of the seizure, the agency must obtain a case number from the clerk and submit an “Application for Seizure Probable Cause Determination” with an accompanying affidavit to the court for ex-parte review and ruling. See Section 932.703(2)(a), F.S.

In Pinellas County, the ex-parte review application is provided to the Honorable Anthony Rondolino, Chief Judge.

After the court decides to grant or deny the request, the judicial assistant files the original Application and the attached affidavit with the Clerk of Court.

Additional Resources

Seizures for Forfeiture by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office – For Seizure/Forfeiture Publication Information visit the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO). Learn more about how PCSO publishes notices pursuant to § 932.704(6)(a) of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, §§ 932.701-706 in the Business Observer.

This article was last updated on Thursday, January 19, 2023. 

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