Traveling may sound like a dream to many, but going through airport terminals, customs, and security checks can leave you exhausted. Enhanced security systems and deployment of security personnel make spending time at airports even more daunting. You may find agents from the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), or ICE lurking around.

If an officer singles you out from the crowd and asks to inspect your bags, you may be too frightened to resist and ask for a warrant. They will proceed to check your luggage and your person for any contraband, including excessive cash that may raise suspicions. Asset Forfeiture Attorney works with many clients like you whose money has been seized at airports. It is our job to help you recover your money, so it doesn't become the property of the state or federal government.

Legal Guidelines for Traveling with Money

There is no legal limit on how much money you can bring to an airport, but if you are traveling overseas, you must declare any amounts above $10,000.  Fill out the FinCEN 105 form at Customs and be ready for possible questioning by law enforcement officers to explain the amount of money you are bringing. Submit to extra screening by officers from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and don't let your carry-on bag out of sight.

If you cannot explain the amount of money you are carrying, the TSA agent will file a report to law enforcement agencies like the DEA. The events that ensue may take time, and you could end up missing your flight altogether. If you must travel with large sums of currency on your person or luggage, have a legitimate explanation ready for security officials. Also, keep your money secure and use a money belt after passing through all security checkpoints.

Despite carrying lawfully-obtained money, travelers often find themselves in trouble for attempting to cross borders with large sums of cash. The DEA or customs agent could accuse you of holding illegal money or transporting money to use on unlawful things like human trafficking. In the next section, we will discuss the various ways security agencies can seize your money at airports.

Types of Money Seizures at Airports

Many people travel with some amount of cash on hand and go through airport security uneventfully. Nonetheless, some unlucky people may find themselves under extra scrutiny, and this may trigger questioning at the security office. There are three scenarios in which authorities may decline returning your money:

  1. Airport Seizure

Federal agents tend to lurk around airports trying to apprehend wrongdoers. Traveling through large airports can be stressful, and you may be too distracted to deny consent when an agent approaches you. Asset Forfeiture Attorney has helped many clients who allowed authorities to inspect their luggage and found themselves in legal trouble.

  1. DEA Seizure

The Drug Enforcement Agency has the mandate to conduct searches and question people at airports, and they can take your money under the presumption of criminality. This mandate extends to other settings like your home, on the streets, etc., but they must have a court order. Getting hold of your cash or other items without a court order is unlawful, and your attorney can have the evidence dismissed as the "poisoned fruit."

These seizure cases are becoming increasingly common due to mounting pressure as the War on Drugs intensify. The Institute for Justice derived that half of DEA seizures from 2009 to 2013 involved amounts that are below $10,000. Travelers can bring currency below this threshold for lawful reasons like paying for their stay at the new destination.

Federal drug agents operate under cold consent, where they stop innocent travelers at airports who seemingly act suspiciously. They may claim their target person meets the criteria of a drug courier, and once the person consents to a search, the agents don't need a warrant.

Cold consent is not the ideal way of conducting drug searches at airports, and there have been many instances where racial profiling plays a role in such operations. DEA agents randomly pick suspects without previously gathering intelligence to inform their decisions. If you find yourself in these situations, please contact an experienced attorney right away and don't divulge any information.

  1. US Customs Border Seizures

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can confiscate money at border entering the country, on the road, and at airport checkpoints. As the government increases security protocols at airports, these agencies continue to apprehend travelers suspected of carrying large volumes of currency without legitimate reasons.

State Police work closely with the federal government in seizing money at borders, and they are incentivized by the equitable sharing program. They can seize your currency and turn it over to the national government and recoup a significant chunk as a kickback to cater to their budgetary needs.

What to Do After Your Cash is Seized at the Airport

As you can see above, it is not atypical to be apprehended by the DEA or other authorities at an airport and have your money confiscated. The process is not only scary but also humiliating as bystanders wonder what you may have done to get on the agents' radar. Whether innocent or not, the following steps will bolster your chances of recouping your money:

  • Enlist an attorney who is adept at cash seizure laws. They will demand court action in a US District Court or early judicial intervention.
  • The attorney will file a demand to reserve any video footage from the airport cameras as this evidence can help when the court proceedings commence.
  • Your asset forfeiture attorney will then obtain a court order allowing them to get a copy of this video surveillance from the custodian, like the airport security office.

How Can I Retrieve Money after an Airport Seizure?

Once you have enlisted an experienced attorney, the next step is getting your money back. This retrieval process largely depends on which entity is responsible for the search and seizure. It could be the local police, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or state authorities. Sometimes the cause is not clear, but if the seizure occurred at an airport, the case is generally handled by federal authorities.

  1. Notice of Forfeiture

Federal cases come with a note of forfeiture that is sent through registered mail, so you must wait for this for a few days. Forfeiture law bars you from submitting a civil suit against the national government to recover your money. The notice will also indicate if you can file a petition for remission or mitigation, but we strongly advise against this move. Such decisions are upon the seizing agency, and they may decide not to return the money, and you cannot appeal.

Beware, though, this notice of seizure may contain misleading legal advice such as requiring an explanation for breaking the law, the burden of proof needed, and the documentation to bring. Admitting that you were illegally traveling with the seized money is not a great idea under any circumstances. The authorities will use this admission to retain the funds and perhaps prosecute you.

  1. Unreasonable Delay

We advise clients in these situations to wait patiently until the federal government launches the forfeiture process. Still, if this doesn't happen within a reasonable time, you are free to act. In such a scenario, we can mount a defense of Unreasonable Delay to expedite legal proceedings so that the federal agency can determine if you have broken any law or not.

  1. Mail Correspondence

If there is a delay before starting court proceedings, stay away from speaking directly to the agency as they may ask questions surrounding the seizure and use your responses in the discovery. Send letters instead and keep copies in your records so we can include them in a motion seeking to dismiss these bogus charges.

  1. Administrative Claim

Once you receive a notice of forfeiture from the DEA or relevant agency, you will file an administrative claim within 35 days and have the declaration sworn under penalty of perjury. Note the last day of submitting this claim because if the agency doesn't receive this document by this date, it will return be returned. Not having the administrative application in their custody on time means it was filed after the filing period expired. Your attorney will ensure this process is executed correctly.

The administrative claim is a legal brief or memorandum bearing a legal argument, regulations and statutes, and judicial interpretations of relevant laws. An administrative application may also reference customs published remission and mitigation parameters for failure to report bulk money.

These guidelines vary across locations, and that is why you need an asset forfeiture attorney who is experienced in handling such cases. This administrative petition for the return of money seized by CBP provides a detailed narrative of the officers' and your actions and exchanges leading up to the seizure. As your lawyers, we shall argue for the return of all your money in the claim minus a small fine or mitigation. This option is far better than forfeiting all your cash.

Your attorney will find the perfect equilibrium between your 5th Amendment rights and furnishing this administrative claim with information so that Customs officers may return your cash. We usually prepare a legal document that is approximately ten pages long, including exhibits.

  1. Cost Bond

The next step is posting a cost bond whenever you are asked to do so. A cost bond is a surety bond that promises you will cover court expenses, and it is usually 10% of the confiscated money. This requirement applies when plaintiffs are filing action outside their home state, but it can also be necessary for state residents.

An individual or company may obtain this surety bond to guarantee the court in that jurisdiction they will pay for litigation expenses once the case closes. Court cases have a long list of costs that include depositions, private investigators, attorneys, obtaining government records, paralegals, research services, etc. The court will compute the total bond amount, but you only pay the bond premium.

Cost bonds have a low rating on the hazard code scale, so the underwriting is not as tricky as other bonds. Therefore, any financially qualified applicant can get a cost bond. If you fail to pay for court expenses, the concerned court can file a claim against this cost bond.

  1. US Attorney Reviews

After filing the administrative claim and posting a cost bond, the US Attorney will proceed to examine your case to determine if the forfeiture should proceed or not. If they decide to carry on with seizure, they will file a civil suit in a relevant US District Court and inform you as such by sending a complaint.

  1. Verified Claim and Answer

You are required to file a verified claim stating your wish to regain ownership of the seized property within 30 days, and then submit your response within 20 days after that. The answer will either deny, admit, or say there is a lack of evidence to substantiate the government claim. Your lawyer will then list the defenses they wish to pursue in court.

You are entitled to demand a trial by jury in this response to encourage fairness, so you are not bullied by the legal justice system. Forfeiture cases can take several months to years, which means subsisting without your financial resources. If this money were your livelihood, you would need to plan wisely and find alternative sources of income.

Legal fees rack up quickly, so be prepared to pay for attorneys. Some people attempt to represent themselves in court, but most of these cases don't end well. Your legal knowledge may be limited, and you may not have sufficient time to allocate to your circumstances due to work and family obligations. Asset Forfeiture Attorney advises clients who stand to lose their hard-earned money to hire an experienced attorney immediately. Do not allow the government to seize your assets under bogus charges.

What are the Possible Defenses for Search and Seizure?

Being apprehended for smuggling bulk money through airports is a serious charge that can affect your life in many ways. For instance, you may lose eligibility for means-tested benefits like TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid. Smuggling currency from countries under economic sanctions dampens your hopes for retrieving the money, as it is used to pay fines for infringing sanction programs.

Whether you are innocent or not, your attorneys will pursue defenses to help you recover the money and save you from criminal charges. Here are some of the tried and tested arguments we can use: 

  • Plead innocence – we can argue that you were not aware that the money was obtained or being used illegally. This line of defense will absolve you from the charges leveled against you by state or federal authorities.
  • Unlawful search and seizure – searching your luggage and confiscating money without a proper court order means we can suppress the evidence. It would be immensely difficult to move forward with the case without discovery.
  • Unreasonable delay – sometimes, the federal government may take longer than necessary to file a petition, which means keeping you awaiting your fate. Proving unreasonable delay will help you win this case.
  • Disproportionality – we can argue that keeping your money is disproportionate to the crime you have allegedly committed against the law of the land.
  • Statutory defenses – there are several defenses applicable to forfeiture statutes, and as your attorneys, it is our job to explore any means necessary.

Circumstances for Return of Seized Money

Your Asset Forfeiture Attorney will be hard at work mounting defenses, so you get the money back. There are circumstances under which the authorities must return your money regardless of your chosen line of defense. You will get your cash if:

  • The search on your person or luggage was unconstitutional
  • You did not contravene any law, and so there are no criminal charges
  • The notice of seizure didn't arrive on time
  • The amount seized is higher than what the 8th Amendment allows custom to keep
  • You made an oral amendment of the currency declaration, but Customs failed to honor

Find an Asset Forfeiture Attorney Near Me

Traveling with large sums of money is presumed innocent, but law enforcement officials may not see your point of view. They may apprehend you for failing to declare your cash to customs, or for not having a justifiable reason for bringing that amount of money in transit. If your actions are deemed questionable, the security agency may seize your cash, thus triggering legal proceedings that you didn't anticipate.

Taking your money is not the only consequence; they may charge you with criminal activity or intent to commit crimes within the state or abroad. If you find yourself in this predicament, the Asset Forfeiture Attorney is your best bet in getting your money back. Our remarkable reputation for recovering seized money precedes us, and we don't charge upfront fees. Contact us at 888-571-5590, so we can intervene in your case before things escalate any further.