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How Long Does It Take to Get Seized Cash Returned?

When law enforcement agencies seize cash, it can be a daunting and often bewildering experience for those involved. Whether it’s the DEA seizing cash, cash confiscated at an airport, or a customs cash seizure, the process to get the money returned can be lengthy and complex. Understanding the procedures and knowing what steps to take can help streamline the process and improve the chances of getting your cash back.

Understanding Cash Seizure

Cash seizure by law enforcement agencies typically falls under civil asset forfeiture laws. These laws allow authorities to confiscate property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if no charges are filed against the owner. Common scenarios include:

  1. DEA Seized My Cash: DEA seized your cash? The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) often seizes large sums of money during drug-related investigations.
  2. Cash Confiscated at Airport: Travelers carrying large amounts of cash may have it seized at airports if they fail to declare amounts over $10,000 or if it’s suspected to be linked to illegal activities.
  3. Customs Cash Seizure: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can seize undeclared cash over $10,000 at border crossings or if they suspect the money is involved in criminal activity.

The Seizure Process

Once cash is seized, the responsible agency must follow a legal process to keep it. The owner of the cash will receive a Notice of Seizure, which outlines the intent to forfeit the money. This notice includes instructions on how to contest the seizure.

Steps to Recover Seized Cash

1. Receiving the Notice of Seizure

When your cash is seized, the first step is receiving a Notice of Seizure. This notice is typically sent within 60 days of the seizure and provides details on how to contest it. The notice is crucial as it includes deadlines for filing a claim.

2. Filing a Claim

To initiate the process of getting your money back, you must file a claim with the seizing agency. This claim must be submitted within the deadline specified in the Notice of Seizure, usually 30 days. The claim needs to be a sworn statement under penalty of perjury, asserting your ownership of the cash and your intent to contest the forfeiture.

3. Posting a Cost Bond

In some cases, particularly with customs cash seizures, you may be required to post a cost bond, typically amounting to 10% of the seized cash’s value. This bond is a security deposit that ensures you are serious about contesting the forfeiture. If you can’t afford the bond, you may request a waiver by proving financial hardship.

4. Administrative Petition

Instead of filing a claim, you might opt to submit an administrative petition for remission or mitigation. This petition is essentially a plea to the seizing agency to return the money based on the circumstances. However, this route is often less effective because the decision is made by the agency that seized the cash, with no opportunity for a hearing or appeal.

The Legal Process

1. Review by the U.S. Attorney’s Office

Once a claim is filed, the U.S. Attorney’s Office reviews the case. They have 90 days from receiving your claim to file a complaint for forfeiture in federal court. If they do not file within this period, they must return the cash.

2. Court Proceedings

If the U.S. Attorney’s Office decides to proceed, they will file a civil complaint in federal court. You will be served with this complaint, and you then have 30 days to file a Verified Claim, which is a detailed statement under penalty of perjury describing your interest in the property.

Next, you must file an answer to the complaint within 20 days of filing your Verified Claim. In this answer, you will respond to each allegation in the complaint and list your defenses.

Defenses Against Forfeiture

Common defenses in cash seizure cases include:

  1. Innocent Owner: Demonstrating that you did not know of or consent to the illegal use of the property.
  2. Unreasonable Delay: Arguing that the government took too long to initiate forfeiture proceedings.
  3. Illegal Search and Seizure: Proving that the cash was seized without a proper warrant or probable cause.
  4. Proportionality: Claiming that the seizure is excessive relative to the alleged offense.

Timeline for Getting Seized Cash Returned

The time it takes to get seized cash returned can vary significantly depending on the complexity of the case and the efficiency of the legal system. Generally, it can take several months to a few years. The key factors influencing the timeline include:

  1. Agency Response Time: How quickly the seizing agency sends the Notice of Seizure and processes your claim.
  2. Court Backlog: The workload and schedule of the federal court handling your case.
  3. Legal Proceedings: The duration of the legal process, including filing claims, responses, and any hearings or trials.

Hiring a Cash Seizure Attorney

Given the complexity and potential length of the process, hiring a money seizure lawyer specializing in asset forfeiture is highly recommended. An attorney can navigate the legal intricacies, ensure all paperwork is correctly filed, and represent you in court, significantly improving your chances of recovering your cash.


Getting seized cash returned is a challenging and often lengthy process, influenced by numerous factors including the agency involved and the legal procedures required. Whether it’s dealing with the DEA, airport confiscations, or customs seizures, understanding your rights and promptly taking the appropriate steps is crucial. Hiring an experienced attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome, helping you navigate the complex legal landscape and increase your chances of successfully reclaiming your money.

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