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CBP Seizure of Imported Vehicles for Forfeiture

Agents with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seize vehicles for forfeiture for a variety of reasons. When the vehicle is imported into the United States by a company that intends to sell the vehicle, an agent with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) might develop probable cause that the vehicle is subject to forfeiture pursuant to 19 U.S.C. §§ 1595a(c) and 1627a(a)(2).

CBP inspectors are authorized by federal statute to seize the vehicles pursuant to Title 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c)(2) (“Merchandise introduced contrary to law”), which provides:

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

(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…”

The CBP inspectors were also authorized to seize the vehicles pursuant to the enforcement provisions of the Tariff Act of 1930. Specifically, 19 U.S.C. § 1627a(a)(1)(B) (“Unlawful importation … of certain vehicles; inspections”), provides in relevant part that:

Whoever knowingly imports … or attempts to import …

(B) any self-propelled vehicle or part of a self-propelled vehicle from which the identification number has been removed, obliterated, tampered with, or altered …shall be subject to a civil penalty in an amount determined by the Secretary, not to exceed $10,000 for each violation.

In some cases, CBP will offer to settle the case for a fine, the payment of seizure and storage costs, and a stipulation that the owner export the noncomplying vehicles to another country. An attorney can challenge the CBP’s decision by filing a verified claim for court action so that the vehicle can be released to the owner without those conditions.

The vehicles are subject to forfeiture: 1) pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c)(2)(A) ; 2) ; and 3) pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1627a(a)(2) because the claimant attempted to import vehicles whose VIN numbers had been removed, obliterated, tampered with, or altered. (Id. at ¶ 7ff-hh, “Basis for Forfeiture”).

Attorney Fighting CBP Seizures of Imported Vehicles for Forfeiture

If you received a Notice of Seizure and Information to Claimants Non-CAFRA Form (ATT 8-B) which might explain that the vehicle was seized and is subject to forfeiture under:

  • 19 U.S.C. 1595a(c)(2)(A) because their importation was contrary to law due to their noncompliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards including 49 USC 30112 – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Authorization Act / Prohibition on Import;
  • 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c)(2)(A) because the importation of the vehicle was contrary to law due to the vehicle’s noncompliance with EPA emission requirements; or
  • 19 U.S.C. 1627a(a)(2), 19 USC 1627a(a)(1)(B) and 19 USC 1627a(c)(1)) because of the import of a vehicle and/or vehicle parts with tampered or altered identification number.

As a general rule, the owner’s knowledge of the violation is not required. Furthermore, non-CAFRA forfeiture actions under Title 19 are not subject to the innocent owner’s defense found in CAFRA forfeitures.

An experienced attorney can help you negotiate for the vehicle’s release with the authorities from CBP, NHTSA, EPA, and/or the Office of the United States Attorney.

For more information, call 813-250-0500.


Violations Causing Seizure for Forfeiture of Imported Vehicles

Vehicles imported into the United States are subject to forfeiture to the United States, based in part on the following:

  • 49 U.S.C. § 30112(a) details the prohibitions on manufacturing, selling, and importing noncomplying motor vehicles. With certain exceptions, a person may not import into the United States a motor vehicle manufactured after the date that an applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard has taken effect unless the vehicle complies with the standard and is certified by its original manufacturer as complying with applicable motor vehicle safety standards. This prohibition on importation applies to both new and used motor vehicles. However, there is an exemption for the importation of a vehicle that is at least twenty-five years old. See 49 U.S.C. § 30112(b)(9). Motor vehicles imported in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 30112(a) are subject to forfeiture pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c).
  • 19 U.S.C. § 1627a prohibits an individual from knowingly importing a self-propelled vehicle, including an automobile, from which the identification number has been removed, obliterated, tampered with, or altered. See 19 U.S.C. § 1627a(a)(1)(B). If a person knowingly imports an automobile from which the identification number has been removed, obliterated, tampered with, or altered, the automobile is subject to forfeiture. See 19 U.S.C. § 1627a(a)(2).
  • 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c)(2)(A) requires that each vehicle imported into the United States must comply with applicable safety/emission standards and have the requisite certifications.
  • 40 C.F.R. § Part 85, Subpart P provides that nonconforming vehicles can only be imported by an EPA-certified Independent Commercial Importer “ICI” who holds a valid certificate of conformity unless an exemption applies.
  • 40 C.F.R. § 85.1511(f)(2), designated as Code E on EPA Form 3502-1, provides a declaration that the vehicle is over 20 years old and entitled to exemption from requirements of Clean Air Act if imported by a certificate holder, while Form 3502-1 allows exemption for vehicles 21 years or older in original unmodified configuration, replacement engines must be of the same model.
  • 19 C.F.R. § 12.73 sets forth the procedures and requirements for importing vehicles under Clean Air Act regulations.

Additionally, statutorily-authorized seizures can arise from a violation of regulations promulgated by NHTSA that govern the declarations that a vehicle importer must make regarding safety, bumper, and theft prevention standards. In fact, 49 C.F.R. § 591.5 lists the declarations required for importation.


Importing Vehicles More than 25 Years Old

Federal regulations require that “no person shall import a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment into the United States unless, at the time it is offered for importation, its importer files a declaration …”.

One option for the declaration is that the vehicle is 25 or more years old. 49 C.F.R. § 591.5(i)(1). Vehicles that are 25 years old or older are qualified for an exemption in 49 U.S.C. § 30112(b)(9).

In those cases, the owner file a form with CBP known as the “U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Form HS-7 (DeclarationImportation of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Equipment Subject to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety, Bumper and Theft Prevention Standards).” The exception in 49 U.S.C. § 30112(b)(9) applies to any vehicle that is twenty-five (25) or more years old.

As a general rule, the EPA “age” exemptions only apply to vehicles imported by an EPA-certified Independent Commercial Importer (“ICI”) and/or certificate holders.


This article was last updated on Friday, January 14, 2022.

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