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Many a politician has made the claim that civil asset forfeiture was originally intended as a way to cripple organized crime through the seizure of property used in a criminal enterprise. What it has actually become is a tool for unscrupulous law enforcement officials.  Wherein they act without due process, in an effort to profit and enrich themselves by destroying the livelihood of innocent individuals, many of whom never recover the lawful assets taken from them.

Take the case of Gerardo Serano.  Serano is an American citizen from Kentucky, a farmer, and a one-time GOP Kentucky statehouse candidate.  He was the proud owner of a brand new $60,000 Ford F-250 pick-up truck and was driving it when he went to visit his relatives in Mexico.  He did the usual things one does on a trip snapping pictures on the way with his cell phone so it seemed rather ludicrous to him when Customs and Border Patrol agents halted him at the border, demanded his cell phone, and asked him why he was taking pictures.

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Serano stated –

“I just wanted the opening of the bridge. I was gonna take the opening of the bridge, the entrance of the bridge. That’s all I wanted to do.”

Serano states I know my rights and therefore protested vehemently when Customs and Border Patrol agents when they asked him to unlock his phone. They then demanded to search his truck to which he told them they would need a warrant.  Customs and Border Patrol agents then proceeded to search his vehicle anyway claiming the price of the vehicle itself and the fact that he was taking pictures as some sort of “probable cause.”

As a result, they found a 5 round magazine filled with 5 bullets which as a Kentucky concealed carry permit holder, Serano was well within his rights to have.  He did not even have his firearm in his possession since he was on his way to Mexico, just the loaded magazine. That, however, was enough.

civil forfeiture mckelway bullets

He was detained, but never arrested, nor charged, nor tried, nor convicted. However, agents did seize his prized new truck. It has been two years since the truck’s seizure, they have yet to give it back claiming it was used to “transport munitions of war.”

The Civil Asset Forfeiture program has its roots in English law that American colonists rebelled against. Their rebellion was ultimately codified within the Fourth Amendment which states –

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

civil forfeiture mckelway

Despite that unambiguous language, civil asset forfeiture was revived in the 1930s Prohibition era against bootleggers and mobsters. It was revived again in the 1980s war on drugs under the Reagan administration and continues to this day. Many believe this practice is highly unconstitutional.  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is one of those people –

“There are instances of people, young people, getting some money and saying, ‘I’m moving to California from Boston.’ They’re stopping in some small town in Nevada, and they have a thousand bucks their dad gave them to get started and the police just take it and say: ‘You prove to us that this isn’t drug money.’”

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