In August of 1997, the City of Sarasota implemented a Vehicle Seizure Program, City of Sarasota Ordinance No. 98-4043, Section 33-271. The Vehicle Seizure Program was initiated to combat the use of vehicles that were frequently used to facilitate the commission of prostitution and drug related crimes which were affecting City neighborhoods by bringing the undesirable aspects of these crimes to neighborhoods, schools, and other areas within the City of Sarasota. When a person is arrested for these crimes, the vehicle that is in their custody is impounded and the following three options are available to the registered owner of the vehicle:
1. The registered owner requests a hearing and posts a bond. Two types of hearings are available and both are held before a Special Master appointed by the City Commission. A preliminary hearing is held, at the request of the vehicle owner, to establish if the seizing officer had probable cause under this Section to seize and impound the vehicle. A final hearing is held, at the request of the vehicle owner, where the City will have the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the vehicle was used to facilitate the commission, or attempted commission, of an act of prostitution, assignation, or lewdness as defined in Section 796.07 of the Florida Statutes; contains any controlled substance as defined in Section 893.02 of the Florida Statutes; or was used to facilitate the commission of any violation of Chapter 893 of the Florida Statutes. The preliminary hearing will be conducted within two business days, or as soon as practicable, of proper notice (five days) to the City. A final hearing will be conducted within thirty calendar days, or as soon as practicable, of proper notice (fifteen days) to the City. The vehicle owner posts a bond equal in amount to the civil penalty, hearing costs, and towing and storage fees. The vehicle owner receives the release papers and does not have to pay the towing company upon claiming the vehicle.
2. The registered owner leaves the vehicle in impound and requests either a preliminary hearing or a final hearing using the same guidelines as stated above. If the vehicle owner selects this option, the vehicle remains in storage until the case is decided. The towing company does charge daily storage fees. If the City prevails at the final hearing, the owner is responsible for paying the civil penalty, hearing costs, and towing and storage fees before the vehicle is released.
3. The registered owner waives the right to either a preliminary hearing or a final hearing and pays the administrative civil penalty. In this case, the vehicle owner pays the penalty and receives the vehicle release papers and is responsible for payment of towing and storage fees directly to the towing company upon claiming the vehicle.
The administrative civil penalty is $500.00. The hearing cost is $50.00, the towing cost is $125.00, and the storage cost is $25.00 a day. Also, regulations state that a one time administration fee of $40.00 after the first 24hrs and a one time processing fee of $40.00 after the first 48hrs will be charged by the towing company. This fee covers the retrieval of lien information and notification cost pursuant to 715.05 of the Florida Statutes.
A vehicle owner who initially requested a hearing may decide at any time during the process to waive the hearing and pay the civil penalty.
If the City fails to meet its burden of proof (probable cause at the preliminary hearing/preponderance of the evidence at the final hearing) all money posted by the vehicle owner will be returned, or a vehicle held in storage, will be released at no cost to the vehicle owner.
Failure to pay the administrative civil penalty will result in a lien against real or personal property owned by the vehicle owner.
In the event that the vehicle owner does not pay the administrative civil penalty, or request a final hearing, the City will dispose of the vehicle after thirty-five days.
A vehicle owner must present proof of ownership and a photo ID to schedule a hearing, post bond, or to secure the release of the vehicle.
The civil penalty, or bond money posted, must be paid by cash, cashier's check, or money order payable to the City of Sarasota.
To request a hearing following the guidelines listed above, or if you have any questions regarding the Vehicle Seizure Program, contact Cheri Potts at (941) 954-7031, Monday through Thursday, 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.