Statute of Limitations in Forfeiture Cases

If your property was seized for forfeiture, you should act quickly to retain a qualified attorney at each stage of the case.

Your attorney must act quickly to preserve evidence (including any surveillance video of the detention or seizure) and file a claim for court action within 35 days of the issuance of the notice of seizure.

CAFRA imposes other statutory deadlines in forfeiture cases, including:

  • a 60 day deadline to issue a notice of seizure to all interested parties; and
  • a 90 day deadline to file a complaint for forfeiture after the demand for court action is filed; and
  • a five-year statute of limitations deadline to initiate the process.

This article discusses the statute of limitations in federal civil asset forfeiture cases.

Attorneys on 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 or that it was illegally seized.

Visit our offices in downtown Tampa in Hillsborough County, New Port Richey in Pasco County, and Clearwater in Pinellas County, FL.

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm represent clients in civil asset forfeiture cases throughout the greater Tampa Bay area and the rest of Florida. We often work with attorneys in other jurisdictions as co-counsel to fight these cases throughout the United States.

Even if we can’t take your case, we might be able to point you in the right direction. Call 813-250-0500.

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 .” Landry, 600 F. App’x at 220 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 983(e)(3)).

For the institution of an action to seize substitute assets under 18 U.S.C. § 984, the applicable statute of limitations is one year. United States v. Estate of Parsons, 367 F.3d 409 (5th Cir. 2004).

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 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 latter 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.

When 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

CAFRA imposes other statutory deadlines in forfeiture cases, including:

  • a 60 day deadline to issue a notice of seizure to all interested parties; and
  • a 90 day deadline to file a complaint for forfeiture after the demand for court action is filed.

The 60 day deadline to issue the notice of seizure is explained in Title 9 of the Department of Justice Manual in 9-112.210 as follows:

Section 983(a)(1) requires that written notice of an administrative forfeiture action be sent to interested parties as soon as practicable but no later than 60 days after the date of the seizure.

For interested parties determined after seizure, the written notice shall occur within 60 days after reasonably determining ownership or interest. See section 983(a)(1)(A)(v)….

If a seizing agency discovers that it has inadvertently failed to comply with a deadline for sending notice of the administrative forfeiture of property in a case where such deadlines apply, and the person from whom the property was seized has not waived the 60-day deadline, no further action may be taken to forfeit the property administratively based on the offense giving rise to the original seizure, and the property must be returned to the person from whom it was seized in accordance with section 983(a)(1)(F), unless the return of the property would be unlawful, or unless the Government, as soon as may be practicable, commences a judicial forfeiture proceeding by[:]

(1) naming the property in a criminal indictment or information and obtaining a judicial order pursuant to section 853(e) or (f) allowing it to hold the property; or

(2) filing a civil judicial forfeiture action and retaining lawful possession of the property pursuant to an arrest warrant in rem.

See Chapter 2 of the Asset Forfeiture Policy Manual (“Sixty-Day Notice Period in All Administrative Forfeiture Cases”).

The 90 day deadline comes into play after a demand for court action is filed with the agency that seized the property. Under CAFRA, a complaint for forfeiture must be filed no 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, 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 a civil forfeiture complaint within 90 days, the government has the option of including a forfeiture count or allegation in a criminal indictment.

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

What happens if the AUSA files a complaint outside the 90 day deadline?

If the AUSA files a complaint for civil asset forfeiture under CAFRA outside the 90 day deadline from when the claim was served on the seizing agency, then your attorney can file a motion to dismiss, which might allege:

Motion to Dismiss

The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (“CAFRA”) expressly commands:

“Not later than 90 days after a claim has been filed, the Government shall [1] file a complaint for forfeiture in the manner set forth in the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims or [2] return the property pending the filing of a complaint, except that a court in the district in which the complaint will be filed may [3] extend the period for filing a complaint for good cause shown or upon agreement of the parties.”

18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(3)(A) (emphasis added).

Under the statute, the Government has 90 days to initiate one of three possible options:

  1. file a complaint (civil or criminal) alleging the property is subject to forfeiture;
  2. return the property; or
  3. seek an extension of the deadline.

Id. Further, if by the end of the 90-day deadline, the Government has not initiated one of these options, its choice becomes limited to the prompt return of the property. See 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(3)(B) (“if the Government does not [perform one of the actions listed above], the Government shall promptly release the property.”) (emphasis added).

If the court granted the AUSA’s request for an extension, the request and order must have been within the 90 day statutory deadline. The courts have “consistently held that an extension must be requested before the complaint deadline has elapsed and that retroactive extensions are not permitted.” United States v. 2014 Mercedes-Benz GL350BLT, VIN: 4JGDF2EE1EA411100, 162 F. Supp. 3d 1205, 1210 (M.D. Ala. 2016).



Claimant _____ moves to dismiss this action because the complaint was filed beyond the expiration of the statutory deadline for filing a complaint, which was 90 days after the government received ______’s administrative claim on _____.

Thus, the defendant currency must be returned without forfeiture pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §983(a)(3)(A) & (B). Because the statutory deadline expired, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and should be dismissed pursuant to F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).


After the defendant currency was seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) on ______, the DEA mailed notice of the seizure to the claimant _____ on or about ______.

The notice letter stated that to contest the forfeiture in U.S. District Court, _____ was required to file a claim of ownership “with the Forfeiture Counsel of the DEA by _______” at the following address: Forfeiture Counsel, Asset Forfeiture Section, Office of Domestic Operations, Drug Enforcement Administration, HQs Forfeiture Response, P.O. Box 1475, Quantico, VA 22134-1475. See Exhibit A, Notice Letter, filed concurrently hereto and attached to Declaration of Attorney ______.

The notice further provided in relevant part that “[[quote what it says about date it is deemed filed]]….

This article was last updated on Friday, May 24, 2024.