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Are you the victim of a DEA airport cash seizure? Did you travel on a one-way ticket? Did you buy that ticket within 72 hours of travel? Were you flying to California or Colorado?
Understanding DEA Airport Cash Seizure
This section of our website will educate you on the secret world of DEA airport cash seizure and what a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney can do to get your money back.
Why did the DEA target me at the airport?
Superficially, DEA airport cash seizure is intended to combat the drug trade. To accomplish this task, the DEA targets travelers who exhibit behavior patterns they claim are consistent with bulk cash smuggling and narcotics trafficking. In other words, they are looking for people who do things that suggest they have drugs or drug money on them.
The problem with this methodology is that it casts too wide of a net. Many of the supposed “behaviors” are innocent and exhibited by normal people every day. Regardless, the DEA targets people who fit a certain profile because if they target enough of them, eventually they will find money or drugs.
The Top 7 Travel Behaviors Targeted by DEA:
- Traveling on a one-way ticket
- Purchasing a ticket same day as travel (or within 72 hours of travel)
- Purchasing a ticket at the counter on the same day as travel
- Traveling to or from a marijuana legal state
- Using cash to buy a ticket
- Having a criminal record
- Being a male, 18-40 years old
Traveling on a one-way ticket is the first red flag, especially when flying to California or Colorado. The DEA targets such travelers because marijuana traffickers bring large sums of cash into California and Colorado to buy marijuana which they then drive back to their home states using rental cars.
However, the DEA seems to target people who exhibit three or more of the above traits.
If there is a poster child for DEA airport cash seizure, it is a male traveler, between 18-40 years, who is flying on a one-way ticket purchased the same day of travel, that has a destination in a marijuana legal state. A criminal record, especially for drug related offenses, will only enhance the likelihood that the DEA will stop and question him.
However, the problem with the DEA process is that it casts too wide of a net.
Plenty of people have plenty of reasons for buying one-way tickets. After all, if one-way tickets really were used by drug traffickers that often, why is it legal to sell them? Are the airlines complicit in drug trafficking? Of course not…
In reality, the DEA seizes millions of dollars from people without the necessary evidence to support their actions because too few people fight back. With billions of dollars to gain and no one to stop them, the magnitude of DEA airport cash seizure is enormous.
How Do I Get My Money Back?
DEA airport cash seizure is just one of the many ways the U.S. Government confiscates people’s money. However, there is a world of difference between taking someone’s money and legally keeping it. To get your money back, a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney will attack the Government’s effort to keep what it took.
The Difference Between “Seizure” and “Forfeiture”
When the Government “seizes” property, it merely takes possession of that property, but it is not the real problem you are facing. On the contrary, when the Government “forfeits” property, it takes ownership of that property. A Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney fights to get your money back by challenging forfeiture.
Once it takes ownership through forfeiture, the Government deposits your money into the “Asset Forfeiture Fund” managed by the Department of Justice. From 2007-2016, the U.S. Department of Justice deposited nearly $22 Billion Dollars in the Asset Forfeiture Fund – nearly enough to buy the U.S. Navy’s entire fleet of 14 Ohio class nuclear submarines.
What is Civil Forfeiture Defense?
Before the Government can keep your money, it must afford you the opportunity to file a claim. This is called “Due Process.” Federal law divides civil forfeiture into two categories:
- Administrative Forfeiture
- Judicial Forfeiture
Administrative Forfeiture is a forfeiture system handled in-house at Government offices. Because it does not take place in court, there is no judge, there are no pleadings, and the normal rules of procedure and evidence do not apply. Administrative Forfeiture exists because it is fast, cost-effective, and resource efficient.
On the contrary, Judicial Forfeiture is the system of forfeiture that takes place in court. It begins when the Government files a civil forfeiture lawsuit with the courts. Unlike Administrative Forfeiture, the rules of court always apply.
DEA Notice of Seizure
Due Process always begins with notice. The purpose of notice is to inform people that their rights are being effected so that they can take action.
Following every DEA airport cash seizure, the Government is required to send a “Notice of Seizure” to all known interested parties to inform them of the seizure and give them a chance to file a claim.
An “interested party” is any person or entity that may have a legal right to claim the seized asset. This may include property owners, lien holders, and others.
Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 983(a)(1)(A), the Government has 60 days from the date of your DEA airport cash seizure to send you a Notice of Seizure. When property is seized by a state or local law enforcement agency, the deadline is extended to 90 days.
If the Government does not send Notice of Seizure to the person from whom property was seized, and no extension of time is granted, the Government must return the property to that person. Obviously, the Government is not required to return contraband or other property that is not legal to possess.
However, notice is not required when the Government files a Civil Forfeiture lawsuit before the 60/90 days expire. When the Government files a Civil Forfeiture lawsuit, the Administrative Forfeiture process terminates and the Judicial Forfeiture process begins.DEA Notice of Seizure
Deadline to File a Claim
When the Government refrains from filing a Civil Forfeiture lawsuit and sends a notice of seizure within the 60/90 days, an interested party has 35 days (from the date the notice was mailed) to file a claim. If a proper claim is not received within the 35 day window, the Government will administratively forfeit the money. In plain English, that means they get to keep it.
However, if a proper claim is filed within 35 days, the Government has 90 days to choose from the following:
- Return the money to the claimant, or
- File a civil forfeiture lawsuit in civil court, or
- Obtain a criminal indictment containing an allegation that the property is subject to forfeiture
The differences between Civil Asset Forfeiture vs Criminal Forfeiture are great, even though they intend to accomplish the same thing. Unlike Criminal Forfeiture, Civil Forfeiture in Federal court does not require a criminal conviction to forfeit the property in question. Instead, the Government must prove, by a preponderance of the evidenece, that the property is subject to forfeiture.
Making a Winning Claim
Property is subject to forfeiture under two conditions:
- It was used to commit crime
- It was earned from committing crime
The whole purpose of the Civil Forfeiture system is to give you a chance to make the Government prove one or both of the above conditions exist. Whereas, Civil Forfeiture Defense is all about challenging the Government’s allegations, questioning the admissibility, reliability, and strength of its evidence, and exploiting procedural defenses.
This backdrop is important because it will dictate how a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney handles your claim.
With his/her eye on what may or may not happen at trial, a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney will craft a claim designed to compel the Government to return as much of the seized money as possible.
Common Defenses Include:
- Illegal Search and Seizure
- Unlawful Interrogation
- Innocent Owner Defense
- Excessive Fines Defense
- Lack of Nexus Defense
- Statute of Limitations
- Legitimate Source
- Legitimate Use
- Lack of Evidence
- Conflict in the Evidence
- Unreliable K-9 Evidence
- Inadmissible Character Evidence
Depending on the facts of your specific case, a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney may employ more than one defense. Developing a case theory using the issues and evidence present in your case is essential.
Negotiating Return of Your Money
The amount of money the Government is willing to return will depend on the strength or weakness of your case.
It will also depend on the strength and weakness of the Government’s case. For instance, the Government may have a strong case, but for an illegal search and seizure that ruins it. When this occurs, winning or losing the case will hinge on a judge’s ruling after hearing testimony.
While the U.S. Attorney’s Office has a preference for settling cases before they go to court, they usually try to settle at low dollar figures.
A Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney has to be ready to go to court and fight the claim to the end. Knowing how far to take a case and how hard to push a resolution requires years of experience and an expert level knowledge of criminal law, search and seizure law, procedure, and evidence.
At the end of the day, to negotiate a favorable settlement, a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney has to be street smart, court smart, and know the law.