Florida permits law enforcement agencies to seize your car if it has been used as part of the commission of a crime. Forfeiture - or the legal process in which the law enforcement agency seeks to gain possession of your property - is common in cases in which the police believe that your car was an instrumentality of a crime.
For instance, if you are arrested for trafficking in cocaine because the cocaine was found inside of the trunk of your car, not only can you be charged with a serious crime, the police can take your car and put you on notice that they will be asking a judge to award them ownership. Of your car!
Why? Because the car was used to transport narcotics, hence becoming an "instrumentality" of the crime.
Why does Florida allow this? Because the police departments need money. They take your car and call sell it at auction or use it for police work (essentially a free car).
Forfeiture is a legal process, meaning that the police department must give you notice of its intent to seek forfeiture, and you must be provided with an opportunity to respond. A hearing may be held in which a judge will determine whether enough evidence exists to warrant the forfeiture.
The best way to avoid a forfeiture is negotiation. Police departments have legal departments or outside counsel who handles these matters. Since money is their top priority, they are usually willing to negotiate a payment in exchange for return of the car.
As a criminal attorney, I handle forfeiture matters in addition to the accompanying criminal charges.
From the date of your arrest, you only have 15 days to respond to the police department. They will issue you a written notice and give it to you upon your arrest. Give that notice to your attorney right away. Time is of the essence. If you fail to respond in the required amount of time, you lose.
Call me to discuss forfeiture proceedings in Miami-Dade and Broward.