Once a petition for remission of forfeiture for Customs seized currency is filed the actual petition processing/decision times vary. It can take a long time to get money back from Customs after seizure. You can better your chances for a fast customs decision time by hiring a lawyer. Customs will know you’re serious about challenging your currency seizure and your petition will be done right the first time, without the need for customs to request more information or investigate. Customs decision time for petition may be lengthy.
What’s the Customs decision time for petition?
Customs has no explicit deadline to decide a petition; it could possibly take years to receive a decision.1 In the past, Customs was requested to put a 120-day deadline on the decision process but Customs rejected the request. Specifically, Customs stated:
Customs does not agree. When a petition is received, an investigation often must be undertaken in order to determine the veracity of statements made in that petition. This can be a time consuming process, particularly if information from foreign sources must be obtained. Additionally, there are instances when a claimant to seized property or a charged party asks that Customs delay a decision on a petition for relief. If Customs is required to adhere to a rigid decision schedule, it could work to the disadvantage of such a party. While Customs makes every effort to decide petitions for relief as expeditiously as possible, Customs sees no reason to amend the regulations to place a strict time frame on the processing of petitions.2
Basically, it says Customs own investigation and procedures slow down decisions, which is true.
Why does a petition decision from customs take so long?
For example, procedures include a determination of who has jurisdiction to decide the petition based on value, analysis of facts presented against facts presented by the seizing officer, review of the laws allegedly violated, and assessment of the sufficiency of information and documentation presented. If insufficient, Customs will request that documentation from the petitioner or can refer it to another agency for investigation. This results in a lengthier customs decision time.
Once the petition’s necessary supporting documentation is complete, the petition is referred to the seizing officer and/or the office of investigations, other agencies, and other technical and legal experts. This is sometimes called by CBP a “technical review” by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and can include a full scale financial investigation involving Customs attaches in U.S. embassies abroad and the creation of a written Report of Investigation. Sometimes HSI or ICE will ask to interview you (bad idea, here’s why).
Why are there delays in petitioning for return of seized currency at CBP?
On top of this, there are “everyday” delays in the process. Customs decision time frame is impacted by many variables. The number of currency seizure petitions ahead of yours; your paralegal specialist at FP&F, investigator, or agents may go on vacation or get sick, and of course something else might intervene (for example, a change in enforcement priorities, or a government shutdown). These things affect the length of time it takes for your currency seizure petition to be decided by Customs (CBP).
Some ports take longer to decide petitions than others because they are busier or work slower. Houston, Cleveland and Detroit are among the fastest ports to decide petitions. New York, Miami, Chicago and Atlanta are the longest. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Charlotte somewhere in the middle in how long it takes to process and decide a petition to get back seized currency.
What is a Customs Hold Harmless & Release agreement?
Customs does not return money until you accept their decision. You will have 30 days from the decision date to accept it and must sign an agreement called a Hold Harmless and Release Agreement, which basically states you will not sue them for anything related to the seizure of your money. Specifically, it states:
In consideration of the release of the above listed property to the above named party, I hereby release and forever discharge the United States, its officers, agents, servants, and employees, their heirs, successors, or assigns, from any and all action, suits, proceedings, debts, dues, contracts, judgments, damages, claims, and/or demands whatsoever in law or equity which I, my heirs, successors, or assigns, ever had, now have, or may have in the future in connection with the detention, seizure, and/or release by the Customs and Border Protection of the above listed property.
I further agree to hold and save the United States, its officers, agents, servants and employees, their heirs, successors, or assigns, harmless from any claims by any others, including costs and expenses for or on account of any and all lawsuits or claims of any character for or on account of any and all lawsuits or claims of any character whatsoever in connection with the detention, seizure, and/or release by the Customs and Border Protection of the above listed property.
In addition, I agree to reimburse the United States, its employees, or agents from any necessary expenses, attorney’s fees, or costs incurred in the enforcement of any part of this agreement within thirty (30) days after receiving written notice that the United States, its employees, or agents has incurred them. By accepting this remission decision, petitioner understands that he is waiving any claim to attorney’s fees, interest or any other relief not specifically provided for in this decision.
FP&F requires the hold harmless and release agreement be accepted in order to return the money. It is not a mutual hold harmless. Customs can require this by virtue of their authority under 19 USC § 1618, which states Customs “may mitigate or remit ﬁnes, penalties, and forfeitures under such terms and conditions as deemed appropriate.” It is similar to a settlement agreement between two private parties because it adds finality to the decision.