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Seizure of Aircraft for Forfeiture in Florida

An aircraft might be seized for forfeiture if the seizing agency has probable cause that it was used to:

  • commit or facilitate a crime (such as drug trafficking); or
  • acquired with proceeds from criminal activity.

Most seizures for forfeiture, however, involve no such evidence. Instead, the most common reason for the seizure of an aircraft is a problem with the certificate of registration or tail identification number. For example, Florida Statute 329.10 and Florida Statute 329.11 authorize the forfeiture of any aircraft with an improper registration or tail identification numbers.

At the federal level, when it comes to the seizures and forfeitures of an aircraft, 49 U.S. Code § 46306(d) provides that the Administrator of Drug Enforcement (DEA) or the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may seize and forfeit under the customs laws an aircraft whose use is related to a violation of § 46306(b), or to aid or facilitate a violation, regardless of whether a person is charged with the violation.

Under 49 U.S. Code § 46306(d)(3), the federal statutory scheme for imposing penalties or seizing and forfeiting an aircraft does not prevent any state, including the State of Florida, from establishing a criminal penalty, including providing for forfeiture and seizure of aircraft, for a person that—

  1. knowingly and willfully forges or alters an aircraft certificate of registration;
  2. knowingly sells, uses, attempts to use, or possesses with the intent to use, a fraudulent aircraft certificate of registration;
  3. knowingly and willfully displays or causes to be displayed on an aircraft a mark that is false or misleading about the nationality or registration of the aircraft; or
  4. obtains an aircraft certificate of registration from the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by—
    • knowingly and willfully falsifying or concealing a material fact;
    • making a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement; or
    • making or using a false document knowing it contains a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry.

Attorney for Seizures and Forfeitures of Aircraft in the United States

If your aircraft or airplane was seized for forfeiture, you might have received a notice of seizure from a law enforcement officer at the state level or a federal agent with DEA or U.S. Customs and Border Control (CBP).

If a state or local agency seized the aircraft then the seizure typically follows state law under Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act (unless the feds adopt the forfeiture within 30 days). If a federal agent seized the aircraft, then the seizure will follow federal law.

Either way, attorney Leslie Sammis is experienced in fighting civil asset forfeiture proceedings involving an aircraft. We represent pilots, aircraft owners, and aviation managers. Additionally, attorneys across the county contact us to co-counsel in these cases.

After the aircraft is seized, the receipt or notice of seizure might allege a violation of:

  • 49 USC 46306(d) (violations related to the aircraft certificate of registration being invalid, suspended, revoked, forged, altered or obtained by fraud, an external display of false or misleading registration numbers or country of registration; or registration to a false or fictitious person);
  • 49 USC 46306(b)(5)(A) (the aircraft is not registered under section 44103 of this title or the certificate of registration is suspended or revoked); or
  • 49 USC 44103 (regulations concerning the registration of the aircraft).

We also represent pilots accused of the unlawful operation of an unregistered airplane.

No matter the circumstances, contact civil asset forfeiture attorney Leslie Sammis at Sammis Law Firm.

Call 813-250-0500 today.


Statutory Presumptions for Seizure and Forfeiture of Aircraft

Under 49 U.S. Code § 46306(d)(2), an aircraft’s use is presumed to have been related to a violation of, or to aid or facilitate a violation of—

  1. subsection (b)(1) of this section if the aircraft certificate of registration has been forged or altered;
  2. subsection (b)(3) of this section if there is an external display of false or misleading registration numbers or country of registration;
  3. subsection (b)(4) of this section if—
    • the aircraft is registered to a false or fictitious person; or
    • the application form used to obtain the aircraft certificate of registration contains a material false statement;
  4.  subsection (b)(5) of this section if the aircraft was operated when it was not registered under section 44103 of this title; or
  5. subsection (b)(9) of this section if the aircraft has a fuel tank or fuel system that was installed or altered—
    • in violation of a regulation or requirement of the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration; or
    • if a certificate required to be issued for the installation or alteration is not carried on the aircraft.

Under 49 U.S. Code § 46306(d)(3) provides that the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Administrator of Drug Enforcement (DEA), and the Commissioner shall agree to a memorandum of understanding to establish procedures to carry out this subsection.

Under 49 U.S. Code § 46306(d)(3), the federal statutory scheme for imposing penalties or seizing and forfeiting an aircraft does not prevent a State from establishing a criminal penalty, including providing for forfeiture and seizure of aircraft, for a person that—

  1. knowingly and willfully forges or alters an aircraft certificate of registration;
  2. knowingly sells, uses, attempts to use, or possesses with the intent to use, a fraudulent aircraft certificate of registration;
  3. knowingly and willfully displays or causes to be displayed on an aircraft a mark that is false or misleading about the nationality or registration of the aircraft; or
  4. obtains an aircraft certificate of registration from the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by—
    • knowingly and willfully falsifying or concealing a material fact;
    • making a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement; or
    • making or using a false document knowing it contains a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry.

Crimes Involving Aircraft Registration Violations

Under federal law, federal agents seize aircraft and airplanes for registration violations of 49 U.S. Code § 46306 involving aircraft not providing air transportation.

Under 49 U.S. Code § 46306(c), the general criminal penalties for a violation can include a fine under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 3 years, or both, if the person:

  1. knowingly and willfully forges or alters a certificate authorized to be issued under this part;
  2. knowingly sells, uses, attempts to use, or possesses with the intent to use such a certificate;
  3. knowingly and willfully displays or causes to be displayed on an aircraft a mark that is false or misleading about the nationality or registration of the aircraft;
  4. obtains a certificate authorized to be issued under this part by knowingly and willfully falsifying or concealing a material fact, making a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement, or making or using a false document knowing it contains a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
  5. owns an aircraft eligible for registration under section 44102 of this title and knowingly and willfully operates, attempts to operate, or allows another person to operate the aircraft when—
    • the aircraft is not registered under section 44103 of this title or the certificate of registration is suspended or revoked; or
    • the owner knows or has reason to know that the other person does not have proper authorization to operate or navigate the aircraft without registration for a period of time after transfer of ownership;
  6.  knowingly and willfully operates or attempts to operate an aircraft eligible for registration under section 44102 of this title knowing that:
    • the aircraft is not registered under section 44103 of this title;
    • the certificate of registration is suspended or revoked; or
    • the person does not have proper authorization to operate or navigate the aircraft without registration for a period of time after transfer of ownership;
    • knowingly and willfully serves or attempts to serve in any capacity as an airman without an airman’s certificate authorizing the individual to serve in that capacity;
    • knowingly and willfully employs for service or uses in any capacity as an airman an individual who does not have an airman’s certificate authorizing the individual to serve in that capacity; or
    • operates an aircraft with a fuel tank or fuel system that has been installed or modified knowing that the tank, system, installation, or modification does not comply with regulations and requirements of the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Under 49 U.S. Code § 46306(c), the controlled substance criminal penalties include a fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, if the violation is related to transporting a controlled substance by aircraft or aiding or facilitating a controlled substance violation and the transporting, aiding, or facilitating that:

  1. is punishable by death or imprisonment of more than one year under a law of the United States or a State; or
  2. that is provided is related to an act punishable by death or imprisonment for more than one year under a law of the United States or a State related to a controlled substance (except a law related to simple possession of a controlled substance).

Any term of imprisonment imposed for a controlled substance violation must be served in addition to, and not concurrently with, any other term of imprisonment imposed on the individual.


Statutory Presumptions for Seizure and Forfeiture of Aircraft

Under 49 U.S. Code § 46306(d)(2), an aircraft’s use is presumed to have been related to a violation of, or to aid or facilitate a violation of—

  1. subsection (b)(1) of this section if the aircraft certificate of registration has been forged or altered;
  2. subsection (b)(3) of this section if there is an external display of false or misleading registration numbers or country of registration;
  3. subsection (b)(4) of this section if—
    • the aircraft is registered to a false or fictitious person; or
    • the application form used to obtain the aircraft certificate of registration contains a material false statement;
  4.  subsection (b)(5) of this section if the aircraft was operated when it was not registered under section 44103 of this title; or
  5. subsection (b)(9) of this section if the aircraft has a fuel tank or fuel system that was installed or altered—
    • in violation of a regulation or requirement of the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration; or
    • if a certificate required to be issued for the installation or alteration is not carried on the aircraft.

Under 49 U.S. Code § 46306(d)(3) provides that the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Administrator of Drug Enforcement (DEA), and the Commissioner shall agree to a memorandum of understanding to establish procedures to carry out this subsection.


Crimes for the Unlawful Operation of an Unregistered Aircraft

Subsection (b)(5)(A) applies to the owner of the aircraft, whether he operates the aircraft himself, attempts to operate it, or allows someone else to operate it. 49 U.S.C. § 46306(b)(5)(A).

Subsection (b)(6)(A) applies to one who operates or attempts to operate the aircraft, whether or not he owns it. 49 U.S.C. § 46306(b)(6)(A).

Under 49 U.S.C. § 46306(b), the penalty for a violation includes being “fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 3 years, or both.” 49 U.S.C. § 46306(b).

Under 18 U.S.C. § 3571, the maximum fine of $ 250,000 for any felony, unless a specific statute prescribes otherwise (by specific reference to § 3571). 18 U.S.C. § 3571(b)(3) & (e).

A violation of the aircraft registration requirement contained in 49 U.S.C. § 46306(b) is a Class E felony under 18 U.S.C. § 3559 because a prison term of up to three years is specified. 18 U.S.C. § 3559(a).


This article was last updated on Friday, August 20, 2021.

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