U.S. Customs & Border Protection can seize cash without a warrant when traveling internationally into or out of the United States if they have probable cause to believe that you violated the cash reporting requirement, the bulk cash smuggling laws, or the structuring laws. Most people know these laws simply as the $10,000 reporting requirement.
Does CBP need a warrant to seize money?
The U.S. Constitution creates an exception to the warrant requirement when you consent to the warrant requirement or when a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy. At the international border, the U.S. Supreme Court has said you have absolutely no reasonable expectation of privacy. Thus, CBP can seize your cash without requiring a warrant if you are at a border or are at an airport and flying into or out of the United States.
Furthermore, as if the interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court were not enough, Congress passed a law giving U.S. Customs & Border Protection the right to search and seize at the border, without a warrant. This appears in Title 31, which is the body of laws governing the federal currency reporting regulations.
31 USC 5316(b) says:
Searches at border. For purposes of ensuring compliance with the requirements of section 5316 [31 USCS § 5316], a customs officer may stop and search, at the border and without a search warrant, any vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or other conveyance, any envelope or other container, and any person entering or departing from the United States.
and 5316(c)(2) says…
(2) Civil forfeiture. Any property involved in a violation of section 5313, 5316, or 5324 of this title [31 USCS § 5313, 5316, or 5324], or any conspiracy to commit any such violation, and any property traceable to any such violation or conspiracy, may be seized and forfeited to the United States in accordance with the procedures governing civil forfeitures in money laundering cases pursuant to section 981(a)(1)(A) of title 18, United States Code.
Have you had cash seized by CBP without a warrant?
If you had cash seized by CBP without a warrant, there’s nothing wrong with that from CBP’s perspective. That’s legal, if traveling internationally. But, you still have some chance to get the money back by showing that the money is not connected to illegal activity.
If CBP seized your cash you need a lawyer. Read our trusted customs money seizure legal guide and can contact our customs lawyer for a free cash seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.