Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Custodia Legis Definition:

In the custody of the law; the taking, seizing or holding of something by lawful authority.

Related Terms: Seisin

Latin for 'in the custody of the law'.

Property seized under legal process.

Also sometimes referred to as in custodia legis as in property seized or being held in custodia legis.

In the 1897 edition of Bouvier's Law Dictionary, the term is described as :

"When property is lawfully taken, by virtue of legal process, it is in the custody of the law...."

For example, the property of a bankrupt can be said to be custodia legis - lawfully owned and controlled by a receiver or the trustee acting on behalf of the bankruptcy court.

Usually property held in custodia legis remain in the possession of the law until a court order issues as to distribution.

In maritime law, a ship can be seized in regards to some related legal action and the seizing party can sue for expenses related to the interim dockage and maintenance of the vessel. These are referred to as in custodia legis expenses.

A doctrine of maritime law sometimes called the custodia legis rule, suggests that while a vessel is seized under legal process (in custodia legis), it is shielded from, and cannot be subject to, maritime liens.

As Justice Stone of the United States Supreme Court wrote in the 1930 case of Collie v Ferguson:

"Events subsequent to the seizure do not give rise to liens against a vessel in custodia legis."


  • Collie v Ferguson 281 US 52 (1930)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, legal definitions of replevin and distraint.
  • Gilmore, G. and Black, C., The Law of Admiralty (New York: Foundation Press, 1975).

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