379.337 Confiscation, seizure, and forfeiture of property and products.—
(1) SEIZURE, FORFEITURE; PROCEDURE.—Nothing in this subsection affects the commission’s authority to confiscate in any case illegal saltwater products, illegally taken saltwater products, or illegal fishing gear in accordance with this section.
(a) Property used in connection with a violation resulting in a conviction for the illegal taking, or attempted taking, sale, possession, or transportation of saltwater products is subject to seizure and forfeiture as part of the commission’s efforts to protect the state’s marine life. Saltwater products and seines, nets, boats, motors, other fishing devices or equipment, and vehicles or other means of transportation used or attempted to be used in connection with, as an instrumentality of, or in aiding and abetting such illegal taking or attempted taking are hereby declared to be nuisances.
(b) Upon a conviction of a person in whose possession the property was found, the court having jurisdiction over the criminal offense, notwithstanding any jurisdictional limitations on the amount in controversy, may make a finding that the property was used in connection with a saltwater products violation and may order such property forfeited to the commission.
(c) For purposes of this section, a conviction, except with respect to a first time offender under this chapter for whom adjudication is withheld, is any disposition other than acquittal or dismissal.
(2) SEIZURE, FORFEITURE; NOTICE.—The requirement for a conviction before forfeiture of property establishes to the exclusion of any reasonable doubt that the property was used in connection with the violation resulting in conviction. Prior to the issuance of a forfeiture order for any vessel, vehicle, or other property under subsection (1), the commission shall seize the property and notify the registered owner, if any, that the property has been seized by the commission. Except as provided in subsection (6), the procedures of chapter 932 do not apply to any seizure or forfeiture of property under this section.
(a) Notification of property seized under this section must be sent by certified mail to a registered owner within 14 days after seizure. If the commission, after diligent inquiry, cannot ascertain the registered owner, the notice requirement is satisfied.
(b) Upon a first conviction for a violation under this chapter, the property seized under this section shall be returned to the registered owner if the commission fails to prove by a preponderance of the evidence before the court having jurisdiction over the criminal offense that the registered owner aided in, abetted in, participated in, gave consent to, knew of, or had reason to know of the violation.
(c) Upon a second or subsequent conviction for a violation under this chapter, the burden shall be on the registered owner to prove by a preponderance of the evidence before the court having jurisdiction over the criminal offense that the registered owner in no way aided in, abetted in, participated in, knew of, or had reason to know of the second or subsequent violation which resulted in seizure of the lawful property.
(d) Any request for a hearing from a registered owner asserting innocence to recover property seized under these provisions must be sent to the commission’s Division of Law Enforcement within 21 days after the registered owner’s receipt of the notice of seizure. If a request for a hearing is not timely received, the court shall forfeit to the commission the right to, title to, and interest in the property seized, subject only to the rights and interests of bona fide lienholders.
(e) If a motor vehicle is seized under this section and is subject to any existing liens recorded under s. 319.27, all further proceedings shall be governed by the expressed intent of the Legislature not to divest any innocent person, firm, or corporation holding such a recorded lien of any of its reversionary rights in such motor vehicle or of any of its rights as prescribed in s. 319.27, and upon any default by the violator purchaser, the lienholder may foreclose its lien and take possession of the motor vehicle involved.
(3) COURT ORDER OF FORFEITURE.—When any illegal or illegally used seine, net, trap, or other fishing device or equipment, or illegally taken, possessed, or transported saltwater products, are found and taken into custody, and the owner thereof is not known to the officer finding the item or items, such officer shall immediately procure from the county court judge of the county wherein the item or items were found an order forfeiting the illegally used or illegally taken saltwater products, seines, nets, traps, boats, motors, or other fishing devices to the commission.
(4) DESTRUCTION OR DISPOSITION OF PROPERTY.—All property forfeited under this section may be destroyed, used by the commission, disposed of by gift to charitable or state institutions, or sold, with the proceeds derived from the sale deposited into the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund to be used for law enforcement purposes.
(5) CONFISCATION AND SALE OF PERISHABLE SALTWATER PRODUCTS; PROCEDURE.—
(a) When an arrest is made pursuant to the provisions of this chapter and illegal, perishable saltwater products or saltwater products illegally taken or landed are confiscated, the defendant may post bond or cash deposit in an amount determined by the judge to be the fair value of such confiscated products. The defendant shall have 24 hours to transport the products outside the limits of Florida for sale or other disposition. Should no bond or cash deposit be given within the time fixed by the judge, the judge shall order the sale of the confiscated saltwater products at the highest price obtainable. When feasible, at least three bids shall be requested.
(b) Moneys received from the sale of confiscated saltwater products, either by the defendant or by order of the court, shall be received by the judge and shall be remitted to the commission to be deposited into a special escrow account in the State Treasury to be held in trust pending the outcome of the trial of the defendant. If bond is posted by the defendant, it shall also be remitted to the commission to be held in escrow pending the outcome of the trial of the defendant.
(c) In the event of acquittal, the proceeds of a sale or the bond or cash deposit required by this subsection shall be returned to the defendant. In the event of a conviction, the proceeds of a sale or the bond or cash deposit required by this subsection shall be deposited into the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund to be used for law enforcement purposes. Such deposit into the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund shall constitute confiscation.
(d) For purposes of confiscation under this subsection, the term “saltwater products” has the meaning set out in s. 379.101(36), except that the term does not include saltwater products harvested under the authority of a recreational license unless the amount of such harvested products exceeds three times the applicable recreational bag limit for trout, snook, or redfish.
(6) MUNICIPAL OR COUNTY ENFORCEMENT; SUPPLEMENTAL FUNDING.—
(a) Any municipal or county law enforcement agency that enforces or assists the commission in enforcing the provisions of this chapter, which results in a forfeiture of property as provided in this section, shall be entitled to receive all or a share of any property based upon its participation in such enforcement.
(b) If a municipal or county law enforcement agency has a marine enforcement unit, any property delivered to any municipal or county law enforcement agency as provided in paragraph (a) may be retained or sold by the municipal or county law enforcement agency, and the property or proceeds shall be used to enforce the provisions of this chapter and chapters 327 and 328. If a municipal or county law enforcement agency does not have a marine enforcement unit, such property or proceeds shall be disposed of under the provisions of chapter 932.
(c) Any funds received by a municipal or county law enforcement agency pursuant to this subsection shall be supplemental funds and may not be used as replacement funds by the municipality or county.
History.—s. 3, ch. 61-231; s. 2, ch. 61-119; ss. 25, 35, ch. 69-106; s. 24, ch. 73-334; s. 1, ch. 77-181; s. 1, ch. 85-304; s. 1, ch. 90-286; s. 556, ch. 95-148; s. 27, ch. 96-321; s. 3, ch. 98-390; s. 241, ch. 99-245; s. 3, ch. 2002-264; s. 8, ch. 2003-143; s. 4, ch. 2006-304; s. 122, ch. 2008-247.