What is a Seizure? When does it ocurr?


UNITED STATES CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION - DHS - Property may be “seized” for certain violations of the Customs and related laws. In a seizure, a government official takes physical possession of the merchandise or other article, such as a vehicle, vessel, or aircraft. Under the Customs laws, there are two types of seizures. The first is where a law provides for “forfeiture” of the property. In these situations, if the forfeiture is perfected through appropriate judicial or administrative means, the seized property will become the property of the Federal government and the owner and any other claimants will lose their interest in the property. In most of these cases, the forfeiture “relates back” to the time of the offense and the United States obtains good title from that date. In the second type of seizure, the property is seized to secure payment of a monetary penalty. If the penalty is not paid, the property will be sold to pay the penalty, with the balance being subject to claims of the owners, lien holders or other lawful claimants.

To initiate a seizure, Customs must have probable cause to believe that there was a violation of a customs law or other law enforced by Customs with respect to specific property (e.g., undeclared or smuggled property; counterfeit trademark goods). If, pursuant to statutory authority and Customs seizure policy, property is seized, the seizure represents enforcement action against the property (i.e., a claim for forfeiture). Except in the case of seizures to secure payment of a penalty, the property, not the importer, is considered the violator.
Types of seized merchandise and infractions include:
• prohibited merchandise (e.g., controlled substances, pornography, counterfeit goods, etc.);
• restricted merchandise (e.g., restrictions imposed by textile quota agreements, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Foreign Assets Control, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration/USDA, etc.);
• undeclared, unreported or smuggled merchandise (e.g., goods undeclared by passengers entering the U.S., unreported currency over $10,000, etc.); and
• goods which aid or facilitate the illegal importation of merchandise (e.g., conveyances or merchandise used to hide or conceal illegal goods).

Customs may consider various alternatives in lieu of, or prior to, seizure. First, Customs can reject or deny entry. Second, Customs may detain goods. Detention represents a formal Customs procedure, which requires notice to the importer within five (5) days from the decision that a restriction applies. Third, if the goods are not prohibited, they may be entered into a bonded warehouse or a foreign trade zone (FTZ) with subsequent withdrawal once the defect or restriction is corrected. Fourth, Customs may issue a monetary penalty (e.g., 19 U.S.C. 1592 or 1595a(b)) in lieu of seizure if the defect or restriction pertaining to the good is corrected. By policy, prospective seizures of certain property having a domestic value of $100,000, or greater, require advance referral to, and approval by Headquarters.

This information is provided directly by the Department of Homeland Security & CBP. Thank you.

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