(1) It is the policy of this state that law enforcement agencies shall utilize the provisions of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act to deter and prevent the continued use of contraband articles for criminal purposes while protecting the proprietary interests of innocent owners and lienholders and to authorize such law enforcement agencies to use the proceeds collected under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act as supplemental funding for authorized purposes. The potential for obtaining revenues from forfeitures must not override fundamental considerations such as public safety, the safety of law enforcement officers, or the investigation and prosecution of criminal activity. It is also the policy of this state that law enforcement agencies ensure that, in all seizures made under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, their officers adhere to federal and state constitutional limitations regarding an individual’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, including, but not limited to, the illegal use of stops based on a pretext, coercive-consent searches, or a search based solely upon an individual’s race or ethnicity.
(2) In each judicial circuit, all civil forfeiture cases shall be heard before a circuit court judge of the civil division, if a civil division has been established. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure shall govern forfeiture proceedings under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act unless otherwise specified under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
(3) Any trial on the ultimate issue of forfeiture shall be decided by a jury, unless such right is waived by the claimant through a written waiver or on the record before the court conducting the forfeiture proceeding.
(4) The seizing agency shall promptly proceed against the contraband article by filing a complaint in the circuit court within the jurisdiction where the seizure or the offense occurred.
(5)(a) The complaint shall be styled, “In RE: FORFEITURE OF____” (followed by the name or description of the property). The complaint shall contain a brief jurisdictional statement, a description of the subject matter of the proceeding, and a statement of the facts sufficient to state a cause of action that would support a final judgment of forfeiture. The complaint must be accompanied by a verified supporting affidavit.
(b) If no person entitled to notice requests an adversarial preliminary hearing, as provided in s. 932.703(2)(a), the court, upon receipt of the complaint, shall review the complaint and the verified supporting affidavit to determine whether there was probable cause for the seizure. Upon a finding of probable cause, the court shall enter an order showing the probable cause finding.
(c) The court shall require any claimant who desires to contest the forfeiture to file and serve upon the attorney representing the seizing agency any responsive pleadings and affirmative defenses within 20 days after receipt of the complaint and probable cause finding.
(6)(a) If the property is required by law to be titled or registered, or if the owner of the property is known in fact to the seizing agency, or if the seized property is subject to a perfected security interest in accordance with the Uniform Commercial Code, chapter 679, the attorney for the seizing agency shall serve the forfeiture complaint as an original service of process under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure and other applicable law to each person having an ownership or security interest in the property. The seizing agency shall also publish, in accordance with chapter 50, notice of the forfeiture complaint once each week for 2 consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation, as defined in s. 165.031, in the county where the seizure occurred. (b) The complaint must, in addition to stating that which is required by s. 932.703(2)(a) and (b), as appropriate, describe the property; state the county, place, and date of seizure; state the name of the law enforcement agency holding the seized property; and state the name of the court in which the complaint will be filed.
(c) The seizing agency shall be obligated to make a diligent search and inquiry as to the owner of the subject property, and if, after such diligent search and inquiry, the seizing agency is unable to ascertain any person entitled to notice, the actual notice requirements by mail shall not be applicable.
(7) When the claimant and the seizing law enforcement agency agree to settle the forfeiture action prior to the conclusion of the forfeiture proceeding, the settlement agreement shall be reviewed, unless such review is waived by the claimant in writing, by the court or a mediator or arbitrator agreed upon by the claimant and the seizing law enforcement agency. If the claimant is unrepresented, the settlement agreement must include a provision that the claimant has freely and voluntarily agreed to enter into the settlement without benefit of counsel.
(8) Upon clear and convincing evidence that the contraband article was being used in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, the court shall order the seized property forfeited to the seizing law enforcement agency. The final order of forfeiture by the court shall perfect in the law enforcement agency right, title, and interest in and to such property, subject only to the rights and interests of bona fide lienholders, and shall relate back to the date of seizure.
(9)(a) When the claimant prevails at the conclusion of the forfeiture proceeding, if the seizing agency decides not to appeal, the seized property shall be released immediately to the person entitled to possession of the property as determined by the court. Under such circumstances, the seizing agency shall not assess any towing charges, storage fees, administrative costs, or maintenance costs against the claimant with respect to the seized property or the forfeiture proceeding.
(b) When the claimant prevails at the conclusion of the forfeiture proceeding, any decision to appeal must be made by the chief administrative official of the seizing agency, or his or her designee. The trial court shall require the seizing agency to pay to the claimant the reasonable loss of value of the seized property when the claimant prevails at trial or on appeal and the seizing agency retained the seized property during the trial or appellate process. The trial court shall also require the seizing agency to pay to the claimant any loss of income directly attributed to the continued seizure of income-producing property during the trial or appellate process. If the claimant prevails on appeal, the seizing agency shall immediately release the seized property to the person entitled to possession of the property as determined by the court, pay any cost as assessed by the court, and may not assess any towing charges, storage fees, administrative costs, or maintenance costs against the claimant with respect to the seized property or the forfeiture proceeding.
(10) The court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, up to a limit of $1,000, to the claimant at the close of the adversarial preliminary hearing if the court makes a finding of no probable cause. When the claimant prevails, at the close of forfeiture proceedings and any appeal, the court shall award reasonable trial attorney’s fees and costs to the claimant if the court finds that 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. The court may order the seizing agency to pay the awarded attorney’s fees and costs from the appropriate contraband forfeiture trust fund. Nothing in this subsection precludes any party from electing to seek attorney’s fees and costs under chapter 57 or other applicable law.
(11)(a) The Department of Law Enforcement, in consultation with the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association, shall develop guidelines and training procedures to be used by state and local law enforcement agencies and state attorneys in implementing the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act. Each state or local law enforcement agency that seizes property for the purpose of forfeiture shall periodically review seizures of assets made by the agency’s law enforcement officers, settlements, and forfeiture proceedings initiated by the agency, to determine whether such seizures, settlements, and forfeitures comply with the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act and the guidelines adopted under this subsection. The determination of whether an agency will file a civil forfeiture action must be the sole responsibility of the head of the agency or his or her designee.
(b) The determination of whether to seize currency must be made by supervisory personnel. The agency’s legal counsel must be notified as soon as possible.