Stop Asset Forfeiture
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by Carol Simard

Good afternoon, my name is Carol Simard and I live in Melbourne, Florida.

As a citizen of the United States and resident of Florida, I am deeply disturbed at the growing ease at which law enforcement agencies are seizing private property from citizens in support of the "War on Drugs." Asset forfeiture laws were designed to give police the right to confiscate and keep the luxury possessions of major drug dealers, however like most government programs, it's gotten way out of hand. Law enforcement officials are mostly confiscating the modest homes, cars, and hard-earned cash of ordinary, law-abiding citizens.

I would like to present a scenario that theoretically could happen to anyone in this room, particularly if you are Black, Hispanic, or some other dark-skinned individual. Imagine yourself driving down I-95, maintaining the speed limit, minding your own business, when all of a sudden you are pulled over by a police officer. After giving you a good look over, the police officer assumes that you are a drug dealer. He bases his assumption entirely on the fact that you fit the "profile" of the "typical" drug dealer--you are wearing gold jewelry, you are dressed well, and you were driving the speed limit. He searches your car but does not find any drugs. He does however find $10,000 in cash in your suitcase and confiscates it. He says it's drug money. You say it's inheritance money you just received from your deceased mother up North. But he is the man with the gun, so he gets the money. You are not arrested mind you; you are simply out the $10,000! Now you must spend a good sum of that money and several months, if not years in court, proving that it's rightfully yours. In order to get your money back from the government you must first prove that it was not obtained by dealing in drugs. This is not as easy as you might think. Then once you've proved this, you have to sue the government to actually recover your property. These lawsuits are extremely costly, routinely exceeding $10,000. Citizens often times have to post a bond of up to $5000 before filing suit--this is required to cover the government's legal costs!

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not only insane but blatantly unconstitutional! Asset forfeiture is the biggest growth area in law enforcement, partly because federal and local police agencies usually keep a large amount of the booty they seize. From 1985 to 1991, the number of federal seizures of property under asset forfeiture laws increased by 1,500 percent. This blatant disregard for property rights and individual liberty must end, and Florida should take the lead among the states by protecting its law-abiding citizens through the state constitution.

I fully support the Constitutional Liberty Coalition's proposals submitted to the commission and hope you consider them when deciding which issues will be presented to the voters in 1998.


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