Legal Term Tuesday: Contraband

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Contraband can incorporate many items depending on the country or locality in question.
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This is the latest entry in BeenVerified’s legal term library designed to help you better understand public record information, criminal records and related terminology. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

You may have heard the term “contraband” from your old-fashioned high school principal or in a TV show from the 1970s, but the term has real legal implications. So what does possession of contraband really entail? And how will it show up on a public record? Read on to find out.

Contraband is a broad term for any property that is illegal to produce or possess, according to the Free Dictionary by Farlex. The term has a particular connection to international trade, in that contraband is usually used in the context of illegal smuggling of goods from one jurisdiction to another. The term itself came from the fact that the goods are contrary to the laws of a particular place. The word comes from the French “contrebende” which means “a smuggling.”

Contraband originally came into use during times of war, with contraband goods including those most likely needed for military use. However, the term is now widely and loosely appropriated throughout different contexts. Contraband items can be applied to prisons, schools and even particular states or counties that might outlaw certain items like fireworks or alcoholic beverages.

If authorities discover contraband items on an individual they have a legal right to seize it and the items are almost never returned, even if a successful trial outcome takes place.

When it comes to importing and exporting items, contraband enforcement is handled by the US Customs and Border Protection agency. These are the people you need to clear before re-entering the country after an international flight. When they request to check your bag they are looking for contraband items.

While some obvious contraband items can include illegal drugs, weapons and Cuban cigars, there are many other surprising examples of contraband that you may not be aware of. These items include haggis, clove cigarettes and any pre-packaged meat products.

Running afoul of contraband laws can see a person charged with smuggling, which is a federal crime and charged as a felony. If convicted a person will likely face serious jail time and have the crime blot his or her public record, according to FederalCharges.com. Smuggling often overlaps with other notable and serious crimes such as drug trafficking and illegal weapons possession, both of which are also charged as felonies.

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