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Forfeitures, Seizures & Detentions

The Customs Service is responsible for the enforcement of over 144 different laws relating to the regulation of imports, and the restriction of goods that are considered to be illegal or dangerous to the health, safety, or welfare of the United States.

George R. Tuttle Law Offices assists importers obtain the timely release of their merchandise from Customs custody, and in the case of goods that are seized, to file the appropriate administrative petition under 19 U.S.C. 1618, for their release.

Examination & Detention of Goods

The Customs service is authorized by statute (19 U.S.C. § 1499) to examine all merchandise entering the territory of the United States. Under sec. 1499, Customs has 5 days (excluding weekends and holidays) from the date on which the merchandise was presented for examination to decide whether to release or detain the merchandise. The following limitations on examination and release apply to most goods, unless an agency other than the Customs Service is responsible for the admission of the goods. Examples of such agencies include the Food & Drug Administration, Fish and Wildlife, and the FCC.

Under 19 U.S.C. § 1499(c), merchandise not released within a 5-day period is considered detained. No more than 5 days following a decision to detain merchandise, the Customs Service must provide the importer or other interested party with notice of the detention. This notice must inform the importer of (1) that the goods are under detention; (2) the specific reason for the detention; (3) the anticipated length of the detention; (4) the nature of any tests or inquiries to be conducted; and (5) any information that could be supplied that might accelerate the disposition of the detention. Within certain limitations, the importer is entitled to receive the results of any tests conducted on the merchandise.

If the Customs Service can not make a final determination with respect to the admissibility of the detained merchandise within 30 days after the merchandise ha been presented for examination, or a longer period if specifically authorized, then the merchandise shall be treated as if it were excluded for purposes of protesting the exclusion under 19 U.S.C. 1514(a)(4).

A protest against the decision to exclude the merchandise that has not been allowed or denied by Customs within 30 days from filing shall be treated as having been denied, and the importer may file suit in the CIT to obtain the release of the goods. Once an action respecting a detention is commenced, the court shall grant the appropriate relief which may include, but is not limited to, an order to cancel the detention and release the merchandise, unless the Customs Service can establish, by a preponderance of the evidence that a decision on admissibility has not been reached for good cause.

Seizures & Forfeitures

Merchandise which is not introduced or attempted to be introduced into the United States contrary to law shall be treated as follows:

(1) Merchandise shall be seized and forfeited if it is smuggled or clandestinely imported or introduced.
(2) Merchandise may be seized and forfeited by Customs 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;

(B) Its importation or entry requires a license, permit or other authorization of an agency of the United States Government and the merchandise is not accompanied by such license, permit, or authorization;

(C) It is merchandise or packaging in which copyright, trademark, or trade name protection violations are involved (including, but not limited to: violations of section 1124, 1125, or 1127 of Title 15, section 506 or 509 of Title 17, or section 2318 or 2320 of Title 18);

(D) It is trade dress merchandise involved in the violation of a court order citing section 1125 of Title 15;

(E) It is merchandise which is marked intentionally in violation of section 1304 of this Title; or

(F) It is merchandise for which the importer has received written notices that previous importations of identical merchandise from the same supplier were found to have been marked in violation of section 1304 of this Title.

(3) If the importation or entry of the merchandise is subject to quantitative restrictions requiring a visa, permit, license, or other similar document, or stamp from the United States Government or from a foreign government or issuing authority pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement, the merchandise shall be subject to detention in accordance with section 1499 of this title unless the appropriate visa, license, permit, or similar document or stamp which is presented in connection with the importation or entry of the merchandise is counterfeit, the merchandise may be seized and forfeited.

(4) In any case where the seizure and forfeiture of merchandise are required or authorized by this section, the Customs Service may remit the forfeiture under section 1618 of this title, or (B) permit the exportation of the merchandise, unless its release would adversely affect health, safety, or conservation or be in contravention of a bilateral or multilateral agreement or treaty.


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