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Margaret Johnson, a resident of Charleston, South Carolina, is a 65 year old African American woman
who is retired and living comfortably in a house that she has owned for almost twenty years.



  1. Was the confiscation of Margaret’s $50,000 dollars justified under Florida’s Contraband
    Forfeiture Act?
  2. If the cash forfeiture was illegal, can Margaret seek her money back?
    Margaret Johnson, a 65-year-old resident of Charleston, South Carolina travelled to Florida with
    her grandson and his two friends to purchase supplies for the repair of her home which was
    greatly damaged by a hurricane. Before the hurricane, Margaret had foreseen the extent of the
    catastrophe and withdrawn $50,000 out of her bank to keep it safe. On their way to Gainesville
    in Gator County, Margaret’s car was pursued by the county Sheriff after Jacob, who was driving
    ignored the shining light indicated by the Sheriff’s car. The Sheriff’s car came up behind
    Margaret’s car with its lights and siren running and Jacob pulled the car over the road. Upon
    consent given by Jacob, the three Sheriff Deputies searched the car. The police found the money
    in a briefcase and Margaret explained to them that it was for buying supplies to repair her home.
    The deputies claimed that thy were going to confiscate the money because Jacob had ignored the

lights on the road and that the amount was unusually large on top of the fact that it was rolled in
the same way that criminal dealers roll when going to purchase drugs.
Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act provides that forfeiture of assets is legal if the seizing
agency carries out a “diligent search and inquiry” into the ownership of the property and finds
out that the property is linked to illegal purposes. Furthermore, seizure agencies can carry out
civil forfeiture upon a person’s car without notice as long as there is mere probable cause to
believe that the assets have somehow been “involved” in a crime. Due to the fact that the
property is itself considered as the offender, the police actions are carried out in rem against the
property, rather than the person, and thus the police officer’s burden of proof is significantly
reduced. The Act provides that if the property of an innocent owner is confiscated, the owner
should file a civil suit in court to recover the property within the required notice period. In
Margaret’s case, the police failed to carry out a “diligent search and inquiry” into the matter,
otherwise they could have found Margaret to be innocent.
Though it’s always hard to recover forfeited assets, particularly cash, Margaet has a cause for
action because she did not have the money for illegal purposes but for purchase of supplies to
repair her home.


Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act, Sections 932.701-932.706.

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