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November 29, 2023
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Airport cash seizure and administrative forfeiture proceedings

Federal law allows law enforcement officers to seize property including cash and initiate administrative forfeiture proceedings according to 21 USC 881 and other additional federal laws. The law authorizes the federal government to forfeit money that is traceable to the illegal drug sale or any other crime. Airport cash seizure law further allows such cash to be seized by law enforcement if there is probable cause to believe that the property is subject to forfeiture (e.g. is traceable to the illegal drug sale or other crime) and the seizure is made pursuant to a lawful search or arrest.

Because there is a legitimate security interest in searching the property and persons passing through the security checkpoints of the airport, airport cash seizure law allows such searches of property and persons without any warrants or probable cause. This is why there are some cases when our clients reached out to our firm complaining that their money was seized during the airport search. In one instance such cash was not declared at the airport as required for any cash amount over $10,000 when entering or exiting the United States, which is by itself a violation of the law subjecting such cash to administrative forfeiture. In another case, our client’s backpack was searched during a security check on a domestic flight and the backpack was seized at the airport when TSA acting together with DEA officers found over $30,000 cash in the client’s backpack and the client and his two friends who accompanied him were hesitant in identifying the owner of that money.

When federal law enforcement conducts such airport money seizure, they must send by mail a Notice of seizure of property and initiation of administrative forfeiture proceedings. There are strict deadlines for responding to that notice. More specifically, to contest the forfeiture of property you must file a claim within 35 days of the date of the Notice. There are certain requirements to completing this claim, most importantly you must assert your ownership of the property. The claim must be made under oath and penalty for perjury.

Once the claim is made, a federal agency (such as DEA) has a period of time to either resolve the case through settlement or file a civil forfeiture case in the United States District Court where the seizure took place. In the great majority of cases, an attorney specializing in airport money seizure can negotiate a settlement with the agency and return a sizeable portion of the seized property to the client (in one of the cases it was 90%). Such settlement might be preferable to out-of-state litigation with the necessity of hiring a local counsel if the seizure occurred not at the local airport close to the client’s residence.

If your money was seized during an airport search based on the airport cash seizure law, you may contact our office with any questions.