Florida: Poll Shows Strong Support For Asset Forfeiture Reform; Bill Heads To Gov's Desk


An overwhelming majority of registered Florida voters support civil asset forfeiture reform, according to a new poll released by Drug Policy Action. Eighty-four percent of Florida registered voters, including 86 percent of all Republicans and 81 percent of independents, think police should not be able to seize and permanently take away property from people who have not been convicted of a crime.

Sixty-six percent of voters polled, including 65 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats, would be more likely to support a candidate for president who took the position that the government should not be able to take property from a person who has not been convicted of a crime.

“The notion that police officers can take cash or other property from people never charged with any criminal wrongdoing and keeping any profits from the sale of seized property doesn’t sit well with the public,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for Drug Policy Action. “Voters want action on civil asset forfeiture.

"Governor Scott should sign the reform legislation on his desk, and presidential candidates would be wise to address the issue,” Smith said.

The Florida House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously passed SB 1044, reforming Florida’s “Contraband Forfeiture Act,” sending the legislation to Gov. Scott’s desk for a signature. Last week the Florida Senate passed the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, in a 38–0 vote.

Passage of this legislation was driven by a diverse and disparate coalition of law enforcement and reform advocates, including the Drug Policy Alliance, the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Florida Association of Police Chiefs, Americans for Forfeiture Reform, the Florida ACLU, the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Institute for Justice, the James Madison Institute and the Grover Norquist-led, Americans for Tax Reform.

Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, applauded the bill’s passage yesterday and urged Gov. Scott’s signature. “The government should not be allowed to take your stuff – your money, your car, your boat – without so much as charging you with a crime," Norquist said. "Today that is not true.

"As soon as Governor Scott signs the Civil Asset Forfeiture reforms, sponsored in the Senate by Jeff Brandes, this outrage will begin to end for Floridians,” Norquist said.

In addition to Florida, there is considerable momentum for reform in states around the country. Lawmakers in California, Alaska, Hawaii, Ohio, Nebraska, Maryland and elsewhere are considering bills that reform civil asset forfeiture laws.

Wyoming recently enacted a bill that requires the state to prove the property’s connection to illegal activity before it could be forfeited, and New Mexico passed a sweeping bill last year that gives the state some of the strongest protections against wrongful seizures in the country.

Civil asset forfeiture begins when a federal, state or local law enforcement agency seizes property during a traffic stop or other encounter and takes legal action against the property seized from its owner by alleging that the seized property is connected in some way to illegal drugs or other criminal activity. Property owners do not need to be charged or convicted of a crime in order for law enforcement to seize property.

Federal civil asset forfeiture law also allows the government to seize and keep cash, cars, real estate, and any other property from persons without any proof of criminal wrongdoing. In the 1970s and 1980s, Congress expanded the use of civil asset forfeiture by federal, state and local law enforcement in the name of fighting the War On Drugs.

Numerous law enforcement agencies took advantage of these expanded policies to profit from the confiscation of cash and other property from unsuspecting citizens.

Last year, U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in the Senate and U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) in the House introduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act. The FAIR Act eliminates policing for profit and increases the federal government's burden of proof in civil forfeiture proceedings.

Groups that support reform come from across the political spectrum ranging from the Center for American Progress and The Leadership Council Education Fund to Americans for Tax Reform and FreedomWorks.

Other results of the poll include:

• A significant minority (8 percent) of the 612 respondents polled in Florida reported that a police officer has taken property from them or someone they know without being charged with a crime.
• 54 percent of Florida respondents who reported that a police officer took property from them or someone they know without charging them of a crime said that this happened during a traffic stop.
• 71 percent of voters, including 70 percent of Republicans, think police departments in Florida should not be able to keep the profits from the property they seize.
• 67 percent of voters, including 61 percent of Republicans, disagree with the argument that police should be able to use the profits from the sale of seized property to purchase crime fighting equipment for the police department, even if property is seized from people who are never charged with or convicted of a crime.
• 65 percent of Florida respondents had not heard of “civil asset forfeiture laws” but 84 percent supported reform after hearing a description of civil asset forfeiture laws.

“The breadth of enacted or proposed reforms demonstrate that legislators across the political spectrum are demanding an end to the status quo,” said Theshia Naidoo, senior staff attorney for Drug Policy Action. "This is an issue that unifies lawmakers from the left and the right to protect the public from governmental overreach."

The poll of 612 registered Florida voters was conducted March 7-8 by Public Policy Polling.