7/10/2006Florida Supreme Court Allows Car Seizure Without Trial
The Florida Supreme Court allows cities to enact ordinances allowing seizure of vehicles belonging to those accused, not convicted, of misdemeanors.
The Supreme Court of Florida last Thursday issued a ruling allowing local jurisdictions to seize automobiles that belong to individuals accused, but not convicted, of misdemeanor crimes. Mere "probable cause" is a sufficient basis for the impoundments.
The ruling focused narrowly on whether the city of Hollywood's local ordinance conflicted with a state statute that authorized seizures for serious felony crimes and provided for more substantial due process protections. The Supreme Court remanded more serious questions about the seizure ordinance to a lower court.
"We agree with the Fourth District that the ordinance's procedures raise serious constitutional concerns," the decision stated. "However, we do not address these concerns... The Fourth District is free to address these issues on remand, if appropriate."
The case began when Hollywood Police arrested Colon Bernard Mulligan for allegedly soliciting a prostitute. This accusation gave police sufficient authority to seize his automobile. A "special master" paid by the city -- not a judge or jury -- turned down Mulligan's appeal and forced him to pay $500 to the city plus significant towing and storage fees for the car's return. At this point, Mulligan had not been convicted of any crime.
A full copy of the decision is available in a 115k PDF file at the source link below.