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Mr. Stephan Lara was a victim of a 21st century stagecoach robbery. The bandits committing this heinous and unconstitutional act were law enforcement officers, so it was considered legal.
The culture of presumed guilt is pervasive in all levels of law enforcement. Law officers are allowed to lie to citizens with no consequences (another heinous and (6th amendment) unconstitutional act) unlike if citizens were to do the same.
On February 21, 2021, Mr. Lara was traveling from Texas to Northern California to visit his daughters. Due to his great mistrust of banks, he had $87,000 in cash in his possession. He also had a stack of all the ATM receipts. He was stopped by Nevada Highway Patrol under the guise of following too closely—lie number one. The officer then revealed the real purpose for the stop: NHP is trying to combat smuggling across the southern border.
The officer found the $87,000 and confiscated it. The officer said that the drug dog smelled drugs on the money bag—lie number 2. Since no drugs were found in the vehicle, Mr. Lara was not arrested or charged with any crimes but was left on the side of the road, $87,000 lighter.
Civil asset forfeiture gives law enforcement officers the legal protection to seize personal property—including currency, cars, or weapons—just because they believe the property could have been used in or gained from criminal activity. Just a belief, no actual evidence, nor a warrant, making civil asset forfeiture a very clear violation of the fourth (illegal search & seizure) and the fourteenth (due process) amendments. Civil asset forfeiture started as a tactic to combat drug trafficking and organized crime but like so many governmental practices, it has become larger and more invasive.
As if legalized governmental theft isn’t bad enough, once you have been proven innocent (or as in Lara’s case you never get charged with a crime), to get your property back, you must take the government to court. It has been over six months since Lara’s incident and the government has done nothing to rectify their unconstitutional act; until a lawsuit was filed on August 31st, 2021 by Mr. Lara and his legal representation from the Institute of Justice. Now, the government is saying he can have his money back.
What could Lara have done differently? I advise that if you are stopped by the police, simply give them your license, registration, and insurance card. Do not speak to them. Once you start talking, there is an opening for illegal and unconstitutional acts. We must identify and refuse such invasive behavior from the start and work to prevent it from happening to ourselves or others.
Should you find yourself in a similar situation as Stephan Lara, the Institute of Justice will be more than happy to help you. In the meantime, get active in your community through liberty- and constitution-loving organizations like the South Carolina Libertarian Party.
Ready to get involved? Click here to find the next meeting for your local SCLP group.
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