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Tampa Criminal Lawyer > Blog > Firm News > Bryant Scriven Quoted in Tampa Bay Times Article “Pinellas Deputies Will Seize Cars Seized in a Flee”

Bryant Scriven Quoted in Tampa Bay Times Article “Pinellas Deputies Will Seize Cars Seized in a Flee”


Brandon Kingdollar, Tampa Bay

Pinellas deputies will seize cars used to flee police, sheriff says. The first-of-its-kind policy, which takes effect Tuesday, aims to cut down on high-speed police chases.

Drive off from a deputy in Pinellas County? Starting Tuesday, you’ll lose your car.

The new policy aims to reduce dangerous high-speed police chases, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in a news conference Wednesday. While many states allow police to seize cars involved in felonies, Pinellas is the first law enforcement agency in the nation to enact a blanket seizure policy for evasion cases.

“If you own a car and value it, don’t run from the cops,” Gualtieri said.

The sheriff’s office may seize the vehicle at the time of arrest or at a later date, even if the driver doesn’t own the car. In those cases, Gualtieri said, deputies will issue a written warning notifying the car owner that it was used to commit a felony, and if the car is involved in a second evasion attempt, it will be seized.

“The message: Everyone needs to be responsible,” Gualtieri said. “Don’t let them use your car again. And if you do, and they run again, then it’s on you.”

Gualtieri said the policy will also apply to rental car companies whose vehicles are used to flee deputies. He said the department is aware of drivers renting a car, fleeing deputies, abandoning the vehicle and repeating the cycle with a new rental.

“I’m just going to tell you the way it is: There are some rental car companies out there that cater to those involved in criminal activity,” Gualtieri said. “Many of these car rental agencies know exactly what’s going on.”

The new policy isn’t the first step the sheriff’s office has taken to cut down on police pursuits: In 2014, Gualtieri raised the threshold for when deputies can chase suspects by car, reserving such chases only for when there is an “imminent danger to the public.”

Prior to the change, Pinellas saw roughly 100 police pursuits each year, according to Gualtieri. Since then, that total has fallen to about 10 per year, with just five in 2023.

While other agencies — including the Florida Highway Patrol — have since relaxed their pursuit policies, Gualtieri said his office will continue to avoid them unless absolutely necessary, citing danger to the public.

“All chasing more does is cause more injuries and more death,” Gualtieri said. “The answer here in Pinellas County is to cause a consequence that matters to people who flee from the police.”

Even without police giving chase, attempts to flee are dangerous and can lead to fatal consequences. Gualtieri gave his remarks beside photos of two severe crashes: one that left a teen dead in October 2022, and a high-speed ambulance collision that injured four last month.

From 2019 to 2022, there was a 40% rise in fatal crashes from police pursuits compared to the previous three-year period, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Those crashes left 1,919 dead.

Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of South Carolina, lauded the new seizure policy as an important step to discourage fleeing the police.

“Anything to keep people from fleeing and to keep police from chasing is a positive step,” Alpert said. “If you seize the car, maybe it’s going to deter other people. It can’t hurt.”

Bryant Scriven, a Tampa defense attorney experienced in asset forfeiture cases, raised concerns about the blanket use of the state’s evasion law to seize cars.

“We see arrests all the time for fleeing to elude when it’s literally just driving half a mile or down to the next block to pull into a lighted parking lot or gas station,” Scriven said.

Between January 2022 and April 2024, the policy could have allowed the sheriff’s office to seize as many as 1,042 cars — the number of offenses for fleeing and eluding deputies over that period, though some violators are repeat offenders, according to Gualtieri.

The policy doesn’t mean owners can’t get their vehicles back, though.

Under Florida’s civil forfeiture laws, anyone whose property is seized by police is entitled to an initial court hearing to assess whether police had probable cause to believe the property was involved in a felony. The owner also has a right to a jury trial to determine if they knew or should have known the property would be used to commit the crime.

The sheriff’s office must notify the owner within five days of the seizure and begin forfeiture proceedings within 45 days, or 60 days if they can demonstrate “good cause” to a judge, according to the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act. After the owner is notified, they have 15 days to request an initial hearing to overturn the seizure. Otherwise, they have to wait to go before a jury.

If the court rules in favor of the seizure, Gualtieri said, the sheriff’s office will then sell the vehicle and use the proceeds for charitable purposes and public services.

That revenue will go to the Pinellas County Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which gives money to local nonprofits and also pays for some police equipment, like rain gear, forensic tools and cameras.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office will implement the new car seizure policy on Tuesday.

Gualtieri said the sheriff’s office will not put any of the seized vehicles into service, as some other law enforcement agencies in Florida have. The Panama City Beach Police Department, for example, confiscated a 2022 C8 Corvette in April 2023 and has since repainted it and deployed it for community events.

Alpert, who began researching police pursuits in the 1980s in Miami, said he hopes the possibility of vehicle seizures will not create a “perverse justification” for unnecessary police pursuits.

Scriven said if the new policy leads to excessive arrests and seizures, it will be up to the courts to resolve them.

“You’re going to have some officers on the street essentially making a determination, and they’re not always right,” he said. “I imagine there will probably be a lot more forfeiture litigation, quite honestly, as a result of it.”

Read the Article in the Tampa Bay Times

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