On Sept. 21, 2015, Gerardo Serrano was driving from his home in Kentucky to Piedras Negras, Mexico, when his truck was searched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at Texas’s Eagle Pass border crossing. After finding a small ammunition clip, the agents took Serrano’s truck from him.
Two years later, Customs hasn’t charged Serrano with a crime, and they haven’t given his truck back either. Now he’s suing over what he calls a violation of his constitutional rights.
Customs seized the truck under the laws of civil asset forfeiture, which allow authorities to take cash and property from citizens upon suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. Because it happens under civil law, no criminal conviction — or even criminal charge — is necessary for authorities to take property they believe is connected to a crime.
Supporters call civil forfeiture a valuable crime fighting tool that allows authorities to take criminals’ ill-gotten gains and put them to good use. Critics, like Serrano, contend the practice is an invitation to abuse that ensnares thousands of innocent citizens each year.