Title 18 U.S. Code § 2233 - Rescue of Seized Property
While the Constitution and other federal laws protect citizens against illegal search and seizure of property, the law also protects property that the government has lawfully seized.
Under Title 18 U.S.C. 2233, it is a federal crime to "rescue or dispossess" any property seized by any officer or agent authorized by the government to seize it. You could face up to 2 years in prison if convicted of this crime.
The United States Constitution protects your right to privacy and ensures that nobody's money or property is taken without due process of the law. In certain situations, some issues may occur in connection with searches.
Perhaps there was resistance when a lawfully executed search warrant was being conducted. Maybe law enforcement executed a search warrant, overstepped their bounds, and violated someone's legal rights. Perhaps the search and seizure resulted in federal criminal charges.
While the Constitution defines defendants' rights regarding searches and seizures, other laws describe when a search and seizure is appropriate and what types of behaviors are unlawful in connection with them. Federal forfeiture laws are defined under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 46.
Deciding how to respond to federal charges is crucial. Thus, you need to seek experienced legal representation immediately to begin working on your case.
Your federal criminal defense lawyer will need to conduct an independent investigation, examine the evidence, and determine the best strategy for your case.
We can provide representation in court and during plea negotiations and, when appropriate, attempt to suppress evidence and get the case dismissed. Let's review this federal law in more detail below.
18 U.S.C. 2233 Explained
The language of 18 U.S.C. 2233 says, "Whoever forcibly rescues, dispossesses, or attempts to rescue or dispossess any property, articles, or objects after the same shall have been taken, detained, or seized by any officer or other person under the authority of any revenue law of the United States, or by any person authorized to make searches and seizures, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."
In plain English, this law makes it a crime for someone to try to forcibly recover property after the government has seized or taken control of it.
This means that if someone tries to take back property seized from them directly or through another person, they could be subject to federal prosecution.
This law refers explicitly to property seized by the government in the context of unpaid taxes. "Under the authority of any revenue law of the United States" relates to tax laws.
Thus, if the IRS seizes your property due to a tax levy, and you try to reclaim it by force, you've committed forcible rescue of seized property and may be prosecuted.
It's also worth noting that in terms of this law, attempting to rescue seized property is the same as actually succeeding. In other words, you can face conviction and prison time for trying to recover seized property, even if you don't get it back.
What are the penalties for violating 18 U.S.C. 2233? Rescuing property that the government has seized is a Class E felony under federal law. If you're convicted, you could face up to 2 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Tim owes money in unpaid taxes. The IRS believes that Tim has items in a storage unit that could be sold to pay the debt, so an agent "seizes" the unit by removing the padlock and putting another padlock on it.
Tim goes to the unit with a truck, breaks the government's padlock, and hauls his stuff out of the storage unit. Tim can be charged with a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. 2233.
EXAMPLE 2: Joe has a business that owes back taxes to the IRS. The IRS levies on Joe's bank accounts, and he goes to the bank with his lawyer to try and recover the money.
This is not considered forcible rescue of seized property, as Joe was not trying to use force or violence to reclaim the funds; instead, he was trying to reclaim his property through legal means.
EXAMPLE 3: Mary owes back taxes, and the IRS has seized her car. Mary knows the owner of the lot where the vehicle is being stored and pays him money to go in after hours, remove the boot, and allow Mary to drive the car off the lot.
Mary and the lot owner can be charged with the forcible rescue of seized property.
What Are the Related Federal Statutes?
8 U.S. Code Chapter 109 defines specific types of criminal conduct that is related to searches and seizures and 18 U.S.C. 2233 rescue of seized property, including:
- 18 U.S.C. 2231 - assault or resistance;
- 18 U.S.C. 2232 - destruction or removal of property to prevent seizure;
- 18 U.S.C. 2234 - authority exceeded in executing the warrant;
- 18 U.S.C. 2235 - search warrant procured maliciously;
- 18 U.S.C. 2236 - searches without warrant;
- 18 U.S.C. 2237 - criminal sanctions for failure to heave to, obstruction of boarding, or providing false information.
What If the Property Was Unlawfully Seized?
The U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unlawful government search and seizure of their property. You have legal options if you believe the government unlawfully seized your property.
However, attempting to forcibly take back your property without going through the proper channels is still a violation of 18 U.S.C. 2233, even if the government should not have seized it.
In the end, you could prove the government illegally seized your property but still face federal prison time for illegally trying to take it back.
What Are the Common Defenses?
If you've been charged with rescuing seized property, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be convicted; you still have legal options. The common defenses are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you were unaware that the government had seized or detained the property.
If in Example 1 above, Tim had gone to his storage shed without receiving notice of the IRS tax levy and broken the padlock, not knowing who put it there, he would have a valid defense against the charges.
Perhaps we can argue that you were acting in defense of your property. Anyone seizing your property must identify themselves as acting as an authorized agent or officer of the government.
Suppose they did not identify themselves, and you forcibly recovered your property. In that case, you could make the defense that you believed the officer was attempting to steal your property and that you were defending it.
Contact our law firm to review the details and case options if you were accused of breaking federal law related to searches and seizures. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.
We provide legal representation for federal criminal matters across the United States. You can contact us by phone or using the contact form.