Florida cops and courts treat drug and other related crimes very seriously. A conviction can come with significant consequences, including long stretches behind bars and significant money penalties. Many drug cases also often involve the confiscation of money and other property seized by police officers during an investigation. As a recent case out of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals makes clear, it can be tough to get that money back. State law creates only a small window of time to file a request to return seized property.
The defendant was charged with drug trafficking and money laundering following a 2006 police surveillance operation. Officers observed him pacing back and forth and talking on his cell phone for about 15 minutes before the defendant placed a black duffle bag in his car and drove off. They said he drove erratically to another location, where another man removed a black rolling suitcase from the defendant’s car. An undercover officer approached the two men and the defendant eventually consented to having the car searched, according to the court. The cops found “a significant amount” of cocaine and $738,000 in cash in the duffle bag inside the car.
The defendant was convicted two years later and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Law enforcement officers also seized the money from the duffle bag. A state court denied Defendant’s request to force the return of the money. The court cited a Florida statute that provides that any property lawfully seized by a law enforcement agency becomes the property of that agency 60 days after the closure of court proceedings related to the property. The court said the defendant filed his request outside of that 60-day window.
The defendant then filed two habeas corpus petitions in federal court, arguing that the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act required the state judge to hold a hearing to determine whether the cops had probable cause to search the car at the time they found the drugs and money. But a federal district court said it didn’t have jurisdiction over the case because the defendant’s arguments were based on Florida, not federal, law. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed that decision on appeal.
“On appeal, [Defendant] still does not allege a violation of any federal right with respect to the seizure,” the court said. “This court has already explained to [Defendant] that his challenge to the seizure of his property under Florida law does not state a claim for federal habeas relief.”
If you or a loved one has been charged with drug or other crimes in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa criminal defense lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.