1. If the seizing officers are from a state or local law enforcement agency, and they refer the seizure to a federal agency (such as the DEA), the feds have 90 days to send you a seizure notice. If it is solely a federal agency seizure, they have 60 days to send you the notice.
2. Make sure you have provided a good address for the seizing agency to send notice to you by certified mail. If you do not accept delivery of the notice letter, then your property will be forfeited to the agency. If the address you provided to the officers at the time of the seizure is no longer good, you must contact the agency and provide them with an address where you can receive important mail.
3. If a seizure notice is not served on you within the required deadline, the agency must return your property, although it can still pursue forfeiture in court. Sometimes, however, if there is an ongoing criminal investigation, the government will grant itself a 30-day extension of the notice deadline, or ask a federal judge for a 60-day extension.
4. When the seizure notice is served on you, you are given only 30 days to file a claim with the seizing agency to contest the seizure and forfeiture. DO NOT ALLOW THE 30 DAYS TO EXPIRE. Your claim must be RECEIVED in the hands of the seizing agency within the 30 days, or else your property will be forfeited. Remember, the filing deadline is not the date you mail your claim, but the date your claim is received by the agency.
5. The initial seizure notice will give you the option to file either a "claim" or a "petition for remission or mitigation" (DEA or FBI seizures). YOU ALWAYS WANT TO FILE A CLAIM. If you choose to file a petition instead of a claim, your property will likely be forfeited summarily because you will be allowing the seizing law enforcement agency to decide your case. Thus, it is normally best for you to file a claim and not a petition.
6. There is an exception. If the seizure is by a U.S. Treasury agency such as Customs, IRS or Secret Service, you will be given an opportunity to "defer" forfeiture proceedings by filing a petition for administrative relief instead of a claim. However, if you do this, the seizing agency can take months to decide your petition, and if it is denied, then you have to file a claim anyway to contest forfeiture. Thus, a petition should be filed only in rare circumstances in which you have excellent written documentation that supports your case. A claim usually is your best bet.
7. If your car or business is seized, and these assets are needed for you to earn a living, it may be possible to have them released pending the forfeiture proceedings. Although this is called a petition for "immediate release," the seizing agency has 15 days to rule on your petition. Also, if the agency denies your request, you will have to file a second petition before a court, which then has 30 days to grant or deny release.
8. Once your claim is received by the seizing agency, it must refer your case to the U.S. Attorney's Office located in the seizing district. The government attorney then has 90 days from the date your claim was filed with the seizing agency to file a lawsuit in court seeking to forfeit your property to the government. If a lawsuit is not filed in 90 days, the government must return your property.
9. The U.S. Attorney, however, may ask the court for an extension of time to file its forfeiture lawsuit, but this request often is filed "under seal" without notice to you.
10. If a lawsuit or "complaint for forfeiture" is filed against your property by the U.S. Attorney, the government has 120 days to serve the complaint on you. After service, you have only 30 days to file a "Statement of Interest" in court to contest the lawsuit. DO NOT LET THIS TIME EXPIRE, OR YOUR PROPERTY WILL BE FORFEITED.