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Forfeiture of Property in Pinellas County, FL

The Sixth Judicial Circuit recently adopted a new administrative order dealing with the uniform procedures for the forfeiture of personal property seized during a criminal investigation in Pinellas and Pasco County.

In the Sixth Judicial Circuit, the courts have enacted Administrative Orders 95-97 and PA-CIR-00-20 to implement uniform procedures for cases in the Sixth Judicial Circuit. Because of recent statutory changes passed by the Florida Legislature, the courts changed these procedures in the new administrative order known as ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER NO. 2016-039 PA/PI-CIR.

The administrative order was entered pursuant to the authority of the Chief Judge in accordance with Article V, section 2, Florida Constitution, Rule of Judicial Administration 2.215, and section 43.26, Florida Statutes.

If your property was seized in Pinellas County, FL, then call us about filing a demand for an adversarial preliminary hearing. Act quickly because you only have fifteen (15) days to demand the adversarial preliminary hearing which is the most important way to get your property back quickly.

Attorney for Asset Forfeiture in Pinellas County, FL

The attorneys at firm represent clients after their property is forfeited by a local, state or federal law enforcement officer. Our attorneys are familiar with the procedural requirements for forfeiting property that is considered to be “contraband” related to a criminal act is set forth in the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act in §§ 932.701–932.7062, Florida Statutes.

Call us to find out more about how the new rules provide for the uniform disposition of forfeiture proceedings and ensure consistency amongst all law enforcement agencies within the Sixth Judicial Circuit that seize property for forfeiture.

Act quickly, because you only have fifteen (15) days after the seizure to demand an adversarial preliminary hearing which is the most effective way to get the property back quickly. We can help you fight for the return of your property so that the court will order that any forfeiture hold, lien, lis pendens, or other civil encumbrance shall be released.

Call (727) 592-5885 today to discuss your rights.

Administrative Order in Pinellas County for Asset Forfeiture

The new administrative order was signed on June 22, 2016, by the Honorable Anthony Rondolino, Chief Judge. The order includes several forms or procedural protections including:

Circuit Civil Forfeiture Proceedings Generally

In accordance with section 932.704(2), Florida Statutes, of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, all civil forfeiture cases shall be heard before a judge of the civil division.

In Pinellas County, the Chief Judge (or his/her designee) is hereby designated as the primary Circuit Court Judge of the Civil Division for all forfeiture cases. In Pasco County, the forfeiture cases shall be assigned to any civil section judge in the same manner other circuit civil cases are assigned.

Because forfeiture proceedings are civil proceedings, court reporters shall not be provided at county expense. The seizing agency and/or Claimant(s) are responsible for securing the services of and paying the cost of court reporting services.

Initial Proceedings Prior to Filing a Complaint

Section 932.703, Florida Statutes, recognizes the fact that after a seizure under the Forfeiture Act prior to filing a civil complaint specific events may occur that require court action.

During the 45 day time period between the seizure and the deadline for filing a formal civil action there is a requirement under section 932.703(2)(a), Florida Statutes, that the seizing agency apply to the circuit court for an order determining the existence of probable cause.

There is also a requirement under section 932.703(3), Florida Statutes, that the law enforcement agency in Pinellas County provide notice of the right to an adversarial preliminary hearing and that such a hearing may be required prior to filing a complaint. To insure an adequate record of these initial documents is maintained and a civil case number is available for these filings.

Application for an Ex-Parte Order Finding Probable Cause for Seizure

Effective July 1, 2016, to obtain a ruling pursuant to section 932.703(2)(a), Florida Statutes, the seizing agency shall, within 10 business days of the seizure, submit an Application for Seizure Probable Cause Determination with an accompanying affidavit to the court for ex-parte review and ruling.

The submission packet must include a proposed Order Finding Probable Cause for Seizure and (as an alternative) a proposed Order Denying Probable Cause for Seizure.

The Application for Seizure Probable Cause Determination and the proposed orders shall be substantially the same format as Attachment A of this Order. In addition to an original order, copies and envelopes should be included for distribution by the judicial assistant.

In Pinellas County, the application shall be to the Chief Judge (or his/her designee). In Pasco County the application shall be to the civil judge assigned by the clerk to the action.

If there has not yet been a complaint filed or a circuit civil number issued for the action by the Clerk, the seizing agency shall obtain a case number from the Clerk of Court to be used on these papers prior to submission for ex-parte review.

After the assigned Judge has made his/her findings, the judicial assistant will file the original Application and the attached affidavit with the Clerk of Court.

The original signed Order (regarding the probable cause determination) will also be filed with the Clerk of Court by the judicial assistant and copies will be mailed to the parties using the return envelopes that were provided by the agency.

Notice of Seizure & Right to Adversary Probable Cause Hearing

Section 932.703(3), Florida Statutes, includes a right to an adversary preliminary hearing upon request. Pursuant to this statute a specific notice of this right must be provided. All law enforcement agencies within the Sixth Judicial Circuit shall use a Notice of Seizure in substantially the same format as Attachment B of this Order.

An officer with the law enforcement agency that seized the property is required to complete a Notice(s) of Seizure containing the name and address of the person(s) who may have an interest in the property and who are known to the seizing agency.

When any person receiving the notice requests an adversary hearing in conformity with the statute the seizing agency is then required to set and notice a hearing. The seizing agency shall file both the Notice of Seizure & Right to Adversary Probable Cause Hearing and the responding party’s Request for Adversary Hearing with the Clerk of Court.

If there has not yet been a formal complaint filed or a civil number issued as a result of a prior ex-parte application for probable cause, the Clerk of Court shall assign a civil case number for the proceedings and maintain the documents in a civil file.

In Pinellas County the seizing agency shall schedule the Adversary Preliminary Hearing before the Chief Judge (or his/her designee) to be heard within 10 days of the request or as soon as practicable thereafter. In Pasco County the hearing shall be scheduled before the civil judge assigned to the action by the Clerk of Court.

Complaint for Forfeiture and § 932.704(5)(c), Florida Statutes, Administrative Order

All counsel representing seizing agencies seeking forfeiture in the Sixth Judicial Circuit shall use a “Complaint for Forfeiture” that must be in substantially the same format as Attachment C of the new administrative order.

Section 932.704(5)(c), Florida Statutes, indicates the court shall require any claimant who desires to contest the forfeiture to file and serve upon the attorney for the seizing agency any responsive pleading and affirmative defenses within 20 days after the receipt of the complaint.

To comply with this provision the court has entered Administrative Order 2016-038 Notice to Claimant of Seizure and Filing Requirements under Florida Statutes Section 932.704(5)(c) and counsel for the agency shall include a copy of that order with the complaint and summons to be served upon the claimant. This order advising the claimant of the responsive pleading requirements is included as Attachment D.

Upon the filing of the Complaint, affidavit and payment of the appropriate filing fee and posting a bond pursuant to section 932.704(4), Florida Statutes, to the Clerk of the Court shall cause the opening of a circuit civil proceeding which shall be treated in all regards in like manner.

Copies of the new administrative order were sent to the following individuals or organizations:

  • The Honorable Bernie McCabe, State Attorney
  • The Honorable Bob Dillinger, Public Defender
  • The Honorable Paula O’Neil, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Pasco County
  • The Honorable Ken Burke, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Pinellas County
  • Gay Inskeep, Trial Courts Administrator
  • Ngozi Acholonu, Assistant Regional Counsel
  • Lillian Simon, Director of Administrative Services, Pasco County
  • Nichole Alvarez-Sowles, Chief Operations Officer, Pasco County Clerk’s Office
  • Kimberly Thompson, Director of Criminal Courts
  • Pasco County Clerk’s Office Law Enforcement Agencies
  • Pasco and Pinellas Bar Associations
  • Pasco and Pinellas Counties Law Libraries.
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