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Statute of Limitations in Forfeiture Cases

If your property was seized for forfeiture, you should act quickly to retain a qualified attorney to represent you are each stage of the case. In any forfeiture action, your attorney must act quickly to preserve evidence (including any surveillance video of the detention or seizure) and file a claim or demand for court action. For most forfeiture cases, the statute of limitations never comes into play at all. Instead, shorter 30-day deadlines might apply.

But what if the government takes too long to begin the seizure process? Federal law has long recognized that the statutes of limitation that bars the rights of the government, must receive strict construction. See E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co. v. Davis, 264 U.S. 456, 462, 44 S.Ct. 364, 366, 68 L.Ed. 788 (1924).

Under the plain language of § 1621, the legislative intent in a traceable proceeds case is to give the government five (5) years after it discovers that property is tainted by its purchase with drug proceeds to commence a civil in rem forfeiture action against the property. In other words, the civil forfeiture statute requires that an action be filed within five years after the time when the alleged offense that gives rise to the forfeiture was discovered.

In Gabelli v. SEC, 133 S.Ct. 1216 (2013), the United States Supreme Court concluded that the five-year statute of limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 2462, applies to actions for penalties, fines, and forfeitures. The five-year statute of limitations for forfeiture actions begins to run when a violation is complete rather than when it is later discovered.

If you want to set aside a declaration of forfeiture because you did not receive notice, be aware that CAFRA also provides that “[a] motion to set aside the declaration of forfeiture must be filed no later than five years after the date of final publication of notice of seizure.” Landry, 600 F. App’x at 220 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 983(e)(3)).

Attorneys for the Statute of Limitations in Forfeiture Cases

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm represent clients in civil asset forfeiture actions in federal court. Contact us to discuss how the five (5) year statute of limitations for civil asset forfeiture actions might impact your case.

We can help you assert affirmative defenses including a claim that you are an innocent owner of the seized property. With offices in downtown Tampa in Hillsborough County and New Port Richey in Pasco County, the attorneys at Sammis Law Firm represent clients throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.

Call 813-250-0500.


Tolling of the Statute of Limitations for Forfeiture Actions

The statute of limitations is tolled during any period of concealment. The tolling provision enables the government to file a civil forfeiture action when it learns or discovers the involvement or purchase of the property with drug proceeds.

If the § 1621 limitations period were not tolled until the government discovers the drug-tainted nature of the property, then a convicted drug trafficker would be rewarded by succeeding in his efforts to conceal the fruits of his criminal drug activities.

When the statute of limitations is asserted as a bar to pursuing a forfeiture case, the court must first determine when the government discovered “the alleged offense.”

In a traceable proceeds case, this knowledge of the connection or link of drug proceeds to the subject property commences the running of the five-year limitations period.

Under 19 U.S.C. 1621, the statute of limitations in a federal seizure case is the later of either: 

  • two (2) years from the date that the involvement of the property in the alleged offense was discovered; or
  • five (5) years from the date of discovery of the violation.

During any time during which the property subject to forfeiture is absent from the country, that time might not be counted in the statutory period of limitation. 


Other Time Limitations in Forfeiture Actions

A complaint for forfeiture must be filed not later than 90 days after a claim has been filed. If a complaint for forfeiture is not filed within that 90 days time period that begins after the claim is filed then the seized property must be returned. No further action regarding the civil forfeiture of the property in connection with the underlying offense can be initiated.

Instead of filing of a civil forfeiture complaint within 90 days, the government has the option of including a forfeiture count or allegation in a criminal indictment.

The civil forfeiture statutes do not specify a deadline for filing a civil forfeiture complaint in a purely judicial investigation. The 60-day deadline to give notice to interested parties does not always apply in judicial investigations.

Contact us to find out about the statute of limitations in criminal cases in Florida.


This article was last updated on Friday, December 21, 2018.

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