The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) monitors the people and objects that move through our nation’s airports. The TSA restricts the types of materials people can bring to the airport, such as guns, knives, or other items the TSA deems dangerous. If you accidentally bring a weapon or incendiary device to the airport, the TSA may instigate civil action against you, including charging you with hefty civil penalties.

In this article, the National Security Law Firm explains the TSA civil penalty process and your options if you find yourself in this situation.

Going up against the United States government is no small undertaking. Hiring a TSA civil penalty lawyer can help you craft the legal arguments to present in your favor and help you navigate this sometimes complex and daunting process. The National Security Law Firm exclusively handles cases involving federal national security issues, such as TSA civil penalty actions, security clearance denials, and other matters.

What Items Are Prohibited at Airports?

As you know, the TSA prohibits the public from bringing a host of objects to the airport and on planes. These include restrictions on the size of liquid bottles, aerosol canisters, batteries, and other items. Further, the TSA has strict rules about transporting weapons, ammunition, and incendiary materials, even if the individual is a member of law enforcement or would otherwise have permission to travel with the item.

Items that qualify as incendiary materials, weapons, or ammunition may subject the owner to civil penalties and, in some cases, criminal charges as well. TSA classifies materials based on their characteristics and uses rather than their name. For that reason, possessing items not on the prohibited materials list may subject the user to civil penalties if the TSA deems the materials dangerous or hazardous.

Further, the TSA has rules about how individuals or businesses transport items like guns, ammunition, lighters, and knives if they have approval to bring these on an air carrier. If individuals or businesses do not follow these rules, the TSA may impose civil penalties or refer criminal charges.

What Are the TSA Civil Penalties for Brining a Prohibited Item to the Airport?

The TSA uses a sanctions schedule to determine the appropriate penalties for bringing a prohibited item to the airport. For individuals and small business concerns, the sanction typically cannot exceed $14,950, whereas the maximum penalty is usually $37,377 for air carriers and aircraft operators.

The civil penalty the TSA assesses for the violation depends on the type of item being transported, where it is discovered (e.g., at a checkpoint or in checked baggage), and the presence or absence of aggravating and mitigating factors.

For example, if the TSA discovers flammable gel or liquid at a TSA security checkpoint, they may impose a fine between $390 and $2,250. In contrast, transporting blasting caps or more than 10 ounces of gunpowder may warrant a referral for criminal charges and a fine between $8,960 and $14,950.

What Factors Does the TSA Use to Decide the Penalty Amount?

When calculating the civil penalties to assess against individuals or organizations, the TSA considers a number of factors in aggravation or mitigation. People can locate the aggravating and mitigating factors in the TSA’s Enforcement Sanction Guidelines Policy.

Some of the factors weighed by the TSA in making its decision include the following:

  • The severity of the offense,
  • Whether the violation was intentional or unintentional,
  • If the individual or business has a history of bringing prohibited items to the airport,
  • The individual or business’s character or attitude during the investigative process,
  • Whether the individual or company took reasonable steps to address the violation,
  • The financial burden of a civil penalty on the individual or business, and
  • If the individual or company committed fraud or tried to artfully conceal the.

For firearms violations, the TSA also looks at whether the individual is a TSA pre-check member, a member of the Known Crewmember program, or a repeat firearm offender. If the firearm has a round in the chamber or the safety is turned off, the TSA typically counts this against the individual or organization.

The TSA Civil Penalty Process

When investigating violations and imposing penalties, the TSA follows a process outlined in the applicable federal laws. The procedure includes the following:

  • The TSA investigates the possible violation;
  • The TSA issues a Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty;
  • The individual or organization responds within 30 days;
  • The TSA makes a final determination; and
  • The individual files an appeal.

When individuals face civil penalties, they are up against the full weight and force of the federal government. For that reason, it can be beneficial to call on the services of a TSA civil penalty lawyer. An attorney can guide you through the process and serve as your fierce legal representative. They can help fight wrongful charges against you and advocate for lesser penalties.

TSA Investigates Possible Violation

The first step in the TSA civil penalty process is for the TSA to conduct an investigation into a possible violation. During this process, they may confiscate and examine the items at issue, interview the individual or business and any witnesses, and assess the surrounding circumstances. Depending on the severity of the alleged violation, they may allow the person to leave but confiscate the items for further examination.

TSA Issues a Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty

After conducting the investigation, the TSA makes a decision on whether to impose civil penalties or refer the case for criminal charges. If they decide to impose sanctions, they will issue a Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty. This document outlines the results of the investigation, the outcome, and the next steps.

Individuals who receive this notice should save a copy for their records and respond swiftly. The document contains important details about the civil case against them, and there are strict deadlines individuals must follow to protect their legal rights.

Individual Responds to Notice Within 30 Days

The individual typically has 30 days from the date of the notice to respond. Individuals can take the following action after receiving a Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty:

  • They can promptly pay the fine by check, money order, or online payment;
  • The individual can submit a written request for a Formal Hearing;
  • The individual can waive their right to appeal and instead request the TSA to issue an Order assessing the penalties;
  • The individual can send in written information or evidence that a violation did not occur or the sanction is improper;
  • The individual can request to reduce the penalty due to an inability to pay; or
  • The individual can request an Informal Conference to discuss the situation with the TSA’s attorney.

The above list is not necessarily exclusive, meaning individuals may be able to respond in more than one way. Before responding to a Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty, it is imperative to understand the consequences and legal rights at stake. Individuals may not be able to undo an action once they choose to take it, so having legal counsel may be beneficial.

Agency Issues a Final Notice and Order

After the individual responds and the agency conducts a hearing (if applicable), the TSA issues a final Notice of Civil Penalties and an Order imposing or lifting the penalties. If the TSA chooses to proceed with the sanctions, individuals typically have 30 days to either pay the fine or dispute it by filing an appeal.

Individual Files an Appeal

Individuals can appeal the TSA’s final decision in three ways: filing an appeal, filing a petition to reconsider, and seeking judicial review.

Within 30 days after the agency files the final decision and order, individuals can seek to appeal the decision. During this stage, the individual asks a reviewing agency to take a second look at the decision and take a different course of action. If the appeal does not end favorably for the individual, they can file Petition to Reconsider, which asks the reviewing body to reconsider its decision or make certain modifications.

After an unsuccessful appeal, individuals can seek judicial review of the TSA’s decision within 60 days after the final action. Individuals accomplish this by filing the appropriate paperwork with an appeals court of the United States or the United States Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia.

Contact a TSA Civil Penalty Lawyer for Help

Facing TSA civil penalties can feel overwhelming and frustrating. For government workers, having the TSA threaten actions against you can feel like a betrayal and be confusing. Seeking the assistance of a TSA civil penalty lawyer can help you gain clarity and pursue justice.

The attorneys at the National Security Law Firm have extensive backgrounds working in the government and national security space. Brett O’Brien worked for the federal government for years before transitioning to private practice. He leverages his unique background working in the intelligence and military communities to help his clients navigate often complex situations.

If you are facing a TSA civil penalty, contact our dedicated team today by calling 202-600-4996 to schedule a free consultation.