Seizure of Goods

Customs has the power to seize either money or goods if they are transported in violation of federal law (i.e the Seizure of Goods). The violation of federal law can be that the goods are stolen, smuggled, contraband, violate court order or trademark, or are a hazard to public safety. Under 19 USC § 1595a, the penalties section, some imports that are “contrary to law” mandate forfeiture, and some authorize forfeiture.

Pursuant to 19 USC 1618, a person with an interest in seized goods may file a petition for remission of the fine, penalty, or seizure. The petitioner has the burden in this petition. A petitioner must prove that the penalty was incurred without willful negligence, without intent to defraud the revenue of the US of violate the law, or mitigating circumstances exist that would justify remission.

Our experienced attorneys can file a Petition on your behalf and work to demonstrate these burdens pursuant to CFR 171.1 and CFR 171.2. It is important to get an attorney and firm such as ourselves involved right away, even during the investigation period. At times statements you make even prior to the seizure can be used against you and prejudice your case. Our attorneys can guide you through the process from start to finish.

If you are in a position where your Petition has already been rejected, we might be able to get you a second bite at the apple. In some situations, a supplemental petition can be filed after a denial. Alternatively, if you have learned more through the process and think that Customs has a stronger case, we may be able to make an offer in compromise on your behalf to attempt to mitigate the loss.

19 USC § 1595a – Forfeitures and other penalties

(a) Importation, removal, etc. contrary to laws of United States

Except as specified in subsection (b) or (c) of section 1594 of this title, every vessel, vehicle, animal, aircraft, or other thing used in, to aid in, or to facilitate, by obtaining information or in any other way, the importation, bringing in, unlading, landing, removal, concealing, harboring, or subsequent transportation of any article which is being or has been introduced, or attempted to be introduced, into the United States contrary to law, whether upon such vessel, vehicle, animal, aircraft, or other thing or otherwise, may be seized and forfeited together with its tackle, apparel, furniture, harness, or equipment.

(b) Penalty for aiding unlawful importation

Every person who directs, assists financially or otherwise, or is in any way concerned in any unlawful activity mentioned in the preceding subsection shall be liable to a penalty equal to the value of the article or articles introduced or attempted to be introduced.

(c) Merchandise introduced contrary to law

Merchandise which is introduced or attempted to be introduced into the United States contrary to law shall be treated as follows:

(1) The merchandise shall be seized and forfeited if it—

(A) is stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported or introduced;

(B) is a controlled substance, as defined in the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C.801 et seq.), and is not imported in accordance with applicable law;

(C) is a contraband article, as defined in section 80302 of title 49; or

(D) is a plastic explosive, as defined in section 841 (q) of title 18, which does not contain a detection agent, as defined in section 841(p) of such title.

(2) The merchandise may be seized and forfeited if—

(A) its importation or entry is subject to any restriction or prohibition which is imposed by law relating to health, safety, or conservation and the merchandise is not in compliance with the applicable rule, regulation, or statute;

(B) its importation or entry requires a license, permit or other authorization of an agency of the United States Government and the merchandise is not accompanied by such license, permit, or authorization;

(C) it is merchandise or packaging in which copyright, trademark, or trade name protection violations are involved (including, but not limited to, violations of section 1124, 1125, or 1127 oftitle 15, section 506 of title 17, or section 2318 or 2320 of title18);

(D) it is trade dress merchandise involved in the violation of a court order citing section 1125 of title 15;

(E) it is merchandise which is marked intentionally in violation of section 1304 of this title; or

(F) it is merchandise for which the importer has received written notices that previous importations of identical merchandise from the same supplier were found to have been marked in violation of section 1304 of this title.

(3) If the importation or entry of the merchandise is subject to quantitative restrictions requiring a visa, permit, license, or other similar document, or stamp from the United States Government or from a foreign government or issuing authority pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement, the merchandise shall be subject to detention in accordance with section 1499 of this title unless the appropriate visa, license, permit, or similar document or stamp is presented to the Customs Service; but if the visa, permit, license, or similar document or stamp which is presented in connection with the importation or entry of the merchandise is counterfeit, the merchandise may be seized and forfeited.

(4) If the merchandise is imported or introduced contrary to a provision of law which governs the classification or value of merchandise and there are no issues as to the admissibility of the merchandise into the United States, it shall not be seized except in accordance with section 1592 of this title.

(5) In any case where the seizure and forfeiture of merchandise are required or authorized by this section, the Secretary may—

(A) remit the forfeiture under section 1618 of this title, or

(B) permit the exportation of the merchandise, unless its release would adversely affect health, safety, or conservation or be in contravention of a bilateral or multilateral agreement or treaty.

(d) Merchandise exported contrary to law

Merchandise exported or sent from the United States or attempted to be exported or sent from the United States contrary to law, or the proceeds or value thereof, and property used to facilitate the exporting or sending of such merchandise, the attempted exporting or sending of such merchandise, or the receipt, purchase, transportation, concealment, or sale of such merchandise prior to exportation shall be seized and forfeited to the United States.


19 USC § 1618 – Remission or mitigation of penalties

Current through Pub. L. 113-31. (See Public Laws for the current Congress.)

Whenever any person interested in any vessel, vehicle, aircraft, merchandise, or baggage seized under the provisions of this chapter, or who has incurred, or is alleged to have incurred, any fine or penalty thereunder, files with the Secretary of the Treasury if under the customs laws, and with the Commandant of the Coast Guard or the Commissioner of Customs, as the case may be, if under the navigation laws, before the sale of such vessel, vehicle, aircraft, merchandise, or baggage a petition for the remission or mitigation of such fine, penalty, or forfeiture, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, or the Commissioner of Customs, if he finds that such fine, penalty, or forfeiture was incurred without willful negligence or without any intention on the part of the petitioner to defraud the revenue or to violate the law, or finds the existence of such mitigating circumstances as to justify the remission or mitigation of such fine, penalty, or forfeiture, may remit or mitigate the same upon such terms and conditions as he deems reasonable and just, or order discontinuance of any prosecution relating thereto. In order to enable him to ascertain the facts, the Secretary of the Treasury may issue a commission to any customs officer to take testimony upon such petition: Provided, That nothing in this section shall be construed to deprive any person of an award of compensation made before the filing of such petition.


19 CFR 171.1 – Petition for relief

Petition for relief.

(a) To whom addressed. Petitions for the remission or mitigation of a fine, penalty, or forfeiture incurred under any law administered by Customs must be addressed to the Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures Officer designated in the notice of claim.

(b) Signature. For commercial violations, the petition for remission or mitigation must be signed by the petitioner, his attorney-at-law or a Customs broker. If the petitioner is a corporation, the petition may be signed by an officer or responsible supervisory official of the corporation, or a responsible employee representative of the corporation. Electronic signatures are acceptable. In non-commercial violations, a non-English speaking petitioner or petitioner who has a disability which may impede his ability to file a petition may enlist a family member or other representative to file a petition on his behalf. The deciding Customs officer may, in his or her discretion, require proof of representation before consideration of any petition.

(c) Form. The petition for remission or mitigation need not be in any particular form. Customs can require that the petition and any documents submitted in support of the petition be in English or be accompanied by an English translation. The petition must set forth the following:

(1) A description of the property involved (if a seizure);

(2) The date and place of the violation or seizure;

(3) The facts and circumstances relied upon by the petitioner to justify remission or mitigation; and

(4) If a seizure case, proof of a petitionable interest in the seized property.

(d) False statement in petition. A false statement contained in a petition may subject the petitioner to prosecution under the provisions of 18 U.S.C. 1001.


19 CFR 171.2 – Filing a petition.

Filing a petition.

(a) Where filed. A petition for relief must be filed with the Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures office whose address is given in the notice.

(b) When filed— (1) Seizures. Petitions for relief from seizures must be filed within 30 days from the date of mailing of the notice of seizure.

(2) Penalties. Petitions for relief from penalties must be filed within 60 days of the mailing of the notice of penalty incurred.

(c) Extensions. The Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures Officer is empowered to grant extensions of time to file petitions when the circumstances so warrant.

(d) Number of copies. The petition must be filed in duplicate unless filed electronically.

(e) Exception for certain cases. If a penalty is assessed or a seizure is made and less than 180 days remain before the statute of limitations may be asserted as a defense, the Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures Officer may specify in the seizure or penalty notice a reasonable period of time, but not less than 7 working days, for the filing of a petition for relief. If a petition is not filed within the time specified, the matter will be transmitted promptly to the appropriate Office of the Chief Counsel for referral to the Department of Justice.


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