For decades now, federal government and their cohorts in law enforcement have been carrying out theft of the citizenry on a massive scale using Civil Asset Forfeiture (CAF). The 1980’s-era laws were designed to drain resources from powerful criminal organizations, but CAF has become a tool for law enforcement agencies across the U.S. to steal money and property from countless innocent people. As the case below illustrates, many of those in law enforcement will use CAF as a punitive measure against innocent people for merely asserting their rights.
No criminal charge is required for US law enforcement to use CAF, resulting in easy inflows of cash for law enforcement departments and the proliferation of abuse. This phenomenon is known as “policing for profit.”
In the last 30 years, the amount of “profit” stolen through civil asset forfeiture has skyrocketed.
According to the US Department of Justice, the value of asset forfeiture recoveries by US authorities from 1989-2010 was $12,667,612,066, increasing on average 19.5% per year.
In 2008, law enforcement took over $1.5 billion from the American public. While this number seems incredibly large, just a few years later, in 2014, that number tripled to nearly $4.5 billion.
When we examine these numbers, and their nearly exponential growth curve, it appears that police in America are getting really good at separating the citizen from their property — not just really good either, criminally good.
To put this number into perspective, according to the FBI, victims of burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses in 2014.
That means that law enforcement in America, in 2014, stole $600,000,000 more from Americans than actual criminal burglars.
In many instances, even if no crime was committed, it takes years for people to get back their property — if they get it back at all.
Gerardo Serrano was one of these victims whose Ford truck contributed to billions stolen from Americans in 2015. It took him years to get it back despite not having committed any crime. He is now fighting his way to the Supreme Court to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
In 2015, Serrano became the victim of power-tripping Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents who targeted him for CAF for simply asserting his rights. Serrano was traveling to Mexico to visit family in 2015 and was subsequently detained, searched, and robbed by the CBP. The Institute for Justice has taken up his case and explained how the incident unfolded:
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) didn’t like that Gerardo took photos at the border, which he planned to share on social media with relatives in Mexico to let them know he would see them soon. Two agents objected and, after stopping Gerardo’s truck, physically removed him from it, took possession of his phone, and repeatedly demanded the password. Gerardo, a staunch believer in civil liberties who has run for elected office on a platform of respect for constitutional rights, suggested that the agents obtain a warrant. The border agents responded by telling Gerardo they were “sick of hearing about [ ] rights.” In retaliation, they went through his new Ford pickup with a fine-tooth comb searching for any excuse to seize his vehicle. They found five low-caliber bullets, which they absurdly called “munitions of war,” and used them as an excuse to take his vehicle. (There was no gun in the vehicle.) For the next two years, despite Gerardo’s repeated requests, the government never gave him his day in court to prove his vehicle’s innocence or to force the government to justify its actions before a judge.
The Free Thought Project spoke to Serrano this week, who explained the malicious nature of the CBP seizure.
“The border agents had a chance to keep the bullets or ask me to turn around. They did not need to hurt a guy with a license that can conceal and carry in Texas,” he told TFTP.
Yet they did hurt him, and they used an utterly ridiculous lie to do so. Munitions of war are torpedoes, missiles, bombs, and other highly dangerous items transported by militaries. They are most assuredly not five 9mm bullets. Nevertheless, CBP seized Serrano’s truck and it took him years to get it back.
As soon as Serrano went on the offensive in the form of a class-action lawsuit, CBP immediately acquiesced and gave him back his truck.
As IJ reports:
Shortly after Gerardo filed a class-action lawsuit against the CBP (Serrano v. Customs and Border Patrol), the agency tried to moot Gerardo’s case by returning the vehicle. But the trial court held that the case was not moot—as Gerardo could move forward with class-action claims on behalf of all U.S. citizens who have had vehicles seized at the border—and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Still, having rejected the government’s attempt to moot the case, both courts held that due process does not require government to provide a prompt post-seizure hearing after seizing automobiles. That ruling is now on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“In the criminal context, after the government arrests you, it must hold a probable cause hearing shortly after the arrest—even if the criminal trial follows later,” said Rob Johnson, an IJ attorney. “We are saying the government must provide the same kind of prompt hearing after it takes your property.”
Now, the question of weather or not victims of CAF deserve a prompt hearing is headed to the High Court on an appeal from the Institute for Justice. Serrano told TFTP the case moving up gives him hope that this madness could once and for all come to an end.
“I am just looking forward to having the Supreme Court accept this case. It was never about getting my truck back,” he said. “It was all about my Bill of Rights. When it happened I thought we were done, it’s over and nobody told us my country changed. I have great hope now after all these years that things will start turning around. This is how we make America Great by going through the Supreme Court’s front doors. There is no other way now.”
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