My clients who have had currency seized from Customs often ask me how long it takes to get the money back, or in other words, how long customs has to respond to a petition? The answer depends on a lot of factors. After the currency/monetary instruments are seized
Customs must issue a notice of seizure, and usually they must issue it within within 60 days. ((19 CFR Part 162)) If you elect to file a petition to try and have them money returned, usually the longest part of the process is waiting for Customs to make a decision on the petition.
That’s because Customs has no time limit or deadline for deciding a petition. This is hard for anyone to understand because almost every aspect of our lives has some sort of time limit on it…. but not so for Customs. It is possible that it could take forever to make their decision; and as ridiculous as that sounds, it’s basically true. ((The exact limits of how long Customs may take to make a decision are discussed by the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Von Neumann, 474 US 242 (1986), and the government indicated that the Administrative Procedures Act might provide a remedy.))
When Customs revised their regulations, during the notice and comment period someone commented that Customs should be required to make their decision on a petition in 120 days. Here is the exchange that sets forth Customs policy ((65 FR 53565, 68, dated 9/5/2007)):
One commenter indicates that the regulations should be amended in a manner to require Customs to act on petitions within 120 days. The commenter states that when a petition is received, not much else has to be done by Customs and there is no basis for continued delays.
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.
As stated above, there is no time limit on their deciding a petition because Customs conducts their own investigation and review of the incident. For example, the paralegal specialist assigned to the case must determine who has authority to make the decision (it varies based on the property value), analyze the facts presented in the petition against those presented by the seizing officer, thoroughly review the law with respect to the violation, and determine if FP&F has all the necessary information to render a decision, and if not, refer to another source to get that information. The petition can then be 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. Sometimes HSI will ask to interview you (bad idea, here’s why).
On top of that, there are the normal delays inherent in the process. There may be a number of petitions ahead of yours; or, the paralegal, investigators, or agents may be on leave, sick or taking a vacation, and of course something more urgent might intervene (for example, a change in priorities due to a government shutdown). All of these things can effect how long it takes your petition to be decided. Some ports, on average, take longer than others. In our experience, Detroit processes its cases much faster than New York or Chicago.
The one thing that is for certain is that hiring an experienced attorney to handle you currency/monetary instrument seizure case is important. An experienced attorney can make sure that Customs has all the evidence they need, and everything is presented to Customs in the appropriate fashion. We often find that when we are hired, Customs issues the notice of seizure immediately which can have a great impact on how quickly the petition is prepared, filed and decided by Customs.
If you have had your currency/monetary instruments seized, do not decide how to respond to the notice of seizure without first consulting an attorney. If a petition is appropriate, my office prepares a detailed legal memorandum that contains factual narrative with my client’s side of the story, what led to the seizure, a review of the relevant law, regulations and Custom’s own guidelines concerning the seizure. When the facts allow for it, my Petition will always include a strong argument for return of the money in full, or even when there is a valid basis for the currency seizure, a strong argument for the money to be returned upon payment of a fine in the smallest amount of money possible, rather than forfeiture of all your money. At times, Customs violation of the law or their own policies may permit us to make technical arguments that cancel the seizure entirely.
If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please make use of the other information available on this website or call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We will be happy to answer any questions you have and explain the process to you. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit. Please read these other articles:
- Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. Customs
- Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
- Structuring currency imports and exports
- Is it $10,000 per person? Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
- Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
- Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
- Responding to a Customs currency seizure
- How do I get my seized money back?
- Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
- How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?