Has asset forfeiture gone too far? Truck seizure case sparks outrage, a call for change

Two years ago, Gerardo Serano – an American citizen, Kentucky farmer and a one-time GOP Kentucky statehouse candidate – was driving his brand new, $60,000 Ford F-250 pick-up truck to visit relatives in Mexico, snapping pictures along the way, when Customs and Border Patrol agents halted him at the border, demanded his cell phone, and asked him why he was taking pictures. “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 told Fox News. As a self-proclaimed student of the Constitution, Serano said he knew his rights, and protested to Customs and Border Patrol agents vehemently when they asked him to unlock his phone. “You need a warrant for that,” he says he told them. They searched his truck and found five bullets in a magazine clip that Serano, a Kentucky concealed carry permit holder, forgot to remove before leaving his home. “We got you,” he says border agents told him. He was detained, but never arrested, nor charged, nor tried, nor convicted. However, agents did seize his prized new truck. Two years since its seizure, they have yet to give it back. Serano is still making monthly payments of $673 on the truck as well as paying for its insurance and Kentucky license fees. His attorneys at the Institute for Justice say Customs and Border Patrol has told them the truck was subject to the government’s Civil Asset Forfeiture program because 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 in the Fourth Amendment, which reads, in part: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” 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 and continues to this day. “It’s absolutely astonishing that civil forfeiture is a policy that we have in this country,” said Clark Neily of the Cato Institute. “It is totally unjust, unfair, and I think it’s unconstitutional.” Sen. Rand Paul, (R-KY) agrees. “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,” Paul said. “And the police just take it and say: ‘You prove to us that this isn’t drug money.’”

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