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Government's Seizure of Cash at Airports

Orlando Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys

Since 9/11, American's have become accustomed to putting up with security screening by TSA. The purpose of this heightened security is to prevent dangerous weapons from being brought onto the airplane. What many do not realize is that the screening by TSA has resulted in seizures of cash carried by passengers.

Taking cash onto a commercial airplane is perfectly legal. However, if you are traveling outside the country or returning to the United States from abroad, you must fill out a form if you have over $10,000 in cash.

If TSA finds a large amount of cash in your luggage, purse, or pockets, you will be in for an unpleasant experience:

  • You will be called out of line, taken to a private room and interviewed by law enforcement officers.
  • You will be questioned about the source of the cash and the reason for carrying the cash.
  • If you refuse to answer or if the law enforcement officer does not believe your story, the cash will be seized.
  • You will more than likely miss your flight because of the time it will take for the law enforcement officer to complete the questioning, count the money and decide whether to seize your money.
  • In most cases, the money is seized. Rarely are individuals arrested and usually, the individuals are not charged with a crime.

A person whose money was seized must then prove that they are entitled to get their money back with the help of an Orlando federal criminal defense lawyer. The government is not required to file a lawsuit to prove it is entitled to keep the money. Rather, an individual who wants their cash back must show that the government did not have probable cause to seize the money. This is the rule in civil forfeitures and is applicable to the Federal Government and most states. Civil forfeitures have been the subject of articles outlining government abuse of seizing assets from individuals who are never charged and legitimately earned the money. The civil forfeiture rules apply to airport seizures as well.

Getting Your Money Back: Harder Than You Think

The end result of a cash seizure is that the person will have to expend a lot of time, energy and expense in trying to convince the government to return the property. In seizures by the Federal Government, individuals must petition the appropriate agency under that agency's rules and establish a legal source of the cash, as well as the reason for bringing the cash onto the plane. As an alternative, the owner of the money may file a lawsuit to prove the money was from a legal source and the reason for bringing the money on the plane was also legal. Both of these methods may take months if not years.

The amount of cash that is large enough to result in an airport seizure is not subject to any legal minimum and is often based upon the TSA employee and the law enforcement officers called in to investigate the matter. A person who contests the seizure and has the money returned is generally not entitled to recover attorney's fees, interest, or damages caused by being deprived of the money.

The widespread use of civil forfeiture including seizures at the airport has resulted in several articles in the press criticizing the unfair seizures of assets. Law-abiding citizens have been harmed and businesses ruined. Recently, New Mexico passed a law that essentially abolished civil forfeitures because of the abuses. Many believe that it is fundamentally unfair for the government to seize someone's money and then make the citizen prove they are entitled to its return.

What To Do

If this happens to you, you should tell the interviewing law enforcement officers that you will only speak to them when your attorney is present, and then call an experienced Orlando criminal defense lawyer. The risk that you run by talking to law enforcement and answering their questions about the money you are carrying includes: 1) the officers will use what you say to justify seizing the money and 2) they may intentionally or unintentionally misrepresent what you say which will be used to justify seizing your money.

Call an experienced criminal defense attorney in Orlando at the Law Offices of Horwitz & Citro, P.A., to discuss your case today. We can be reached online or at (407) 901-5852.

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