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Criminal Cases and Civil Forfeiture: Adding More Consequences to Criminal Cases.

June 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, Florida Criminal Law, Florida Lawyer

Criminal Cases and Civil Forfeiture: Adding More Consequences to Criminal Cases.

If you are charged with a felony in Florida, you are facing prison time, fines, loss of driving privileges, and a permanent criminal record.  However, there is one other consequence that doesn’t immediately come to mind, civil forfeiture.  Civil forfeiture is the taking of assets by the state that are either proceeds of a crime or instrumentalities of a crime.  Most often civil forfeitures occur in federal court or state court when there are instances of trafficking in large amounts of drugs or weapons.  Examples of assets that may be taken are cash, boats, vehicles, bank accounts, homes and any other assets used as an instrumentality of a crime or are the proceeds of the crime. 

The Florida Statutes that govern civil forfeiture require a state agency (usually a police department) to follow specific rules when seizing a vehicle for civil forfeiture.  Within 5 days of the seizure a letter must be sent via certified mail to the property owners stating the vehicle has been seized for civil forfeiture and stating that the owner has 15 days to request an adversarial preliminary hearing.  An adversarial preliminary hearing is an opportunity for the respondent (the person whose assets were taken) to argue the government does not have probably cause to seize the asset. 

If the judge rules there is probable cause for the government to seize the asset, the government then has 45 days from the date of seizure to file a complaint.  The respondent will then have 20 days to answer.  A respondent has the right to a jury trial if their property is seized by a government agency.  This trial will occur in the Civil Circuit Court and has no relationship to the criminal case.  Your criminal case may be dropped or you may win in trial and the government can still move forward in your civil forfeiture case.

Recently municipalities in Palm Beach County have begun to use this process in many drug cases.  For example, if you are pulled over for any valid reason and the police have a valid reason to search your vehicle, if they find any felony amount of drugs in the vehicle, your car can be seized for civil forfeiture.  That means if the police legally find minimal amounts of cocaine for personal use in your vehicle, they may take your car!  Florida courts have upheld this type of civil forfeiture.

If your property has been seized by a government agency in conjunction with a felony arrest, you need an experienced Palm Beach County criminal defense attorney to fight for your rights in both criminal and civil court. 

If you or a loved one have been arrested or a facing civil forfeiture, please contact Winston Law, P.A. at (561) 670-9375 or susan@winstonlawpa.com for your free consultation.

Palm Beach County judge under unprecedented fire, accused of bias

June 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, Florida Criminal Law, Florida Lawyer

Palm Beach County judge under unprecedented fire, accused of bias

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/palm-beach-county-judge-under-unprecedented-fire-accused-2358787.html

            The most interesting part of the State’s motion to recuse Judge Cohen is that all it does is allege his comments about the justice system.  In not one instance is the State able to give an example of Judge Cohen ignoring the law to follow his personal opinions.  They couldn’t give an example because Judge Cohen may have particular opinions that go against State Attorney’s Office policy but he puts aside his opinions and bases his legal decisions on the law.  Rather than blaming the presiding judge, the State Attorney’s Office needs to understand that sometimes they have a weak case, that sometimes the law is not on their side, and that sometimes a defendant does not deserve a lengthy prison sentence.

I’m representing myself, but I have some questions, how can a lawyer help me?

May 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, Florida Family Law, Florida Lawyer

I’m representing myself, but I have some questions, how can a South Florida Family lawyer help me?

            In today’s economy I find that quite often people are representing themselves in their own divorce, modification, contempt and paternity matters.  The family law system is set up to allow for pro se litigants.  Palm Beach County has a self-help center allowing pro se parties to buy legal forms in every family law matter.  The problem starts when it comes time to fill out those forms.  Understanding what each form is for, which forms you need to file, and how to fill them out is the challenge.  The Clerk of Courts and the court staff cannot give legal advice, which means they cannot tell you what to write or whether you are filing the correct forms.  Even after filing the appropriate forms, pro se litigants then need to prepare for mediation, court hearings, and possibly trial. 

            If you need help, you best option is to consult with a South Florida Family Lawyer.  Often lawyers will offer pro se litigants assistance for an hourly fee.  Lawyers can help pro se litigants in the following ways:

  • Preparing the pro se forms that are available through self-help and/or preparing more customized documents that are not within the self-help forms.
  • Preparing for mediation.
  • Preparing settlement proposals and responding to settlement proposals. 
  • Preparing for trial, explaining the rules of evidence, and researching case law to back up your position.
  • Represent you at a particular hearing or mediation only.

If you choose to use an attorney on an hourly basis to help you with your case, it is important to understand that attorney will not file any documents with the court stating that he/she represents you.  If the attorney does go to court, they will be entering a Limited Notice of Appearance for only the matter they are handling. 

While you will not become an attorney overnight, hiring a South Florida Family Law attorney to help with pieces of your case can help you save money and get a better result. 

If you or a loved one is a pro se litigant in a family law case and has questions, please contact Winston Law, P.A. at (561) 670-9375 or susan@winstonlawpa.com.