Has the Government Overstepped and Violated the 4th Amendment (Unreasonable Search and Seizure)?
An American Citizen’s ongoing fight with the US government has sparked a debate about the legality of seizures/forfeitures without criminal charges or a warrant. The case although ongoing all started two years ago when Gerardo Serano took a photo of a bridge close to the US/ Mexican border. Serano, a Kentucky resident, had been taking photos with his phone on his trip down to Mexico to visit some relatives.
He was stopped at the Border by Border Patrol who demanded that he turn over his cell phone and tell them why he was taking photos. Serano, a former GOP statehouse candidate, was a learned man and told the Border Patrol Agents that unless they had a warrant he was within his rights to maintain the privacy of his phone. Border Patrol then proceeded to search his vehicle and found a partially loaded clip that Seranon, a conceal carry permit holder, had forgotten about. The Border Patrol detained him and seized his almost brand new truck. Serano was never arrested nor charged but to this day. Border Patrol currently has possession of his Truck and claim that they have the right to it through The Government Civil Asset Forfeiture Program because Serano’s truck was used to “transport munitions of war.”
Morgan Wright, a senior fellow at the Center for Digital Government, spent 20 years as a police officer and detective in Kansas. He cites the benefits of civil asset forfeiture.
“We seized everything from cars to houses to money to jewelry to you name it,” he said. “One of the cash seizures I had, had plans for a methamphetamine laboratory. They had documented intelligence that they had people working in these operations, people selling cocaine – cartel activity out of Mexico.”
Wright acknowledges asset forfeiture may have gone too far.
“One of the worst things you can do in law enforcement is to take a good tool and abuse it,” Wright said. “So that restrictive regulations come down on it, and it’s taken away from everybody.”
Many contend the program’s abuses outweigh its benefits. Congressional critics were outraged, when, this summer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended Obama-era restrictions that blocked forfeiture without a warrant or criminal charges.
In a rare show of bipartisanship, conservative House Republicans joined liberal Democrats this month in rolling back Sessions’ undoing of the Obama-era reforms. During floor debate, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said: “Asset forfeiture is a crime against the American people committed by their own government.”