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My comments are about CA law (and the other states that have similar laws) . . . an item with an altered or obliterated serial number is contraband, meaning an item prohibited to possess. All of the back-stories being presented here (about thefts and recoveries years ago, restoration of the serial number, or presumptions about why the serial number was destroyed) are inconsequential.

If such an item comes into police custody, it will be destroyed when the investigation is completed or the case is over, not auctioned off to the public. It is the same as if it were narcotics or a prohibited firearm, or whatever else is prohibited by law to possess. True, a lot of stored evidence is eventually auctioned to the public, but not contraband.

Should a person be charged with its possession, then the triar-of-fact (judge or jury) may consider all the excuses put forth, if the case goes to trial. But that is quite a distance from the arrest, seizure, and booking (jailing), and evidence review by a prosecutor. If it is 0200 hours on some city street and you are found in possession of such an item, you will most likely end up in jail and the item will be seized. I'd rather not go through all that hassle. Just get rid of it and walk easy. DAVE
 

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NuclearSax: I am not a lawyer or legal scholar (meaning I have not researched the original bill that resulted in the altered serial number law, nor the case-law that has developed over the years), but here's my take on your question. The altered serial number law removes all the guess-work and suppositions being posed in this thread. None of those situations mentioned here have any bearing on the law . . . possess an item with an altered or obliterated serial number - go to jail. It makes it much simpler for enforcement in the street.

There is also the concept of discretion by officers and prosecutors. Maybe there are some situations where the officer would seize the item but release the suspect pending further investigation, cite the suspect, or some other resolution other than physical arrest and detention. And, same with the prosecutor who may choose not to file the charge and release the suspect.

There are any number of reasons why officers take various actions in a case. I'm guessing though, that regardless of what happens to the person in possession, the item will be seized and probably not released. DAVE
 

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NuclearSax: I am not a lawyer or legal scholar (meaning I have not researched the original bill that resulted in the altered serial number law, nor the case-law that has developed over the years), but here's my take on your question. The altered serial number law removes all the guess-work and suppositions being posed in this thread. None of those situations mentioned here have any bearing on the law . . . possess an item with an altered or obliterated serial number - go to jail. It makes it much simpler for enforcement in the street.

There is also the concept of discretion by officers and prosecutors. Maybe there are some situations where the officer would seize the item but release the suspect pending further investigation, cite the suspect, or some other resolution other than physical arrest and detention. And, same with the prosecutor who may choose not to file the charge and release the suspect.

There are any number of reasons why officers take various actions in a case. I'm guessing though, that regardless of what happens to the person in possession, the item will be seized and probably not released. DAVE
I hear what you're saying about making enforcement easier, but I just don't think that's a reasonable premise for a law. Just to be clear, I'm not arguing with the information you've provided, and I'm not trying to argue with you, I'm just stating that I don't think it makes any sense to follow the same steps for EVERY instance of contraband material, regardless of the situation. A saxophone is not a brick of heroin. Allowing an individual to keep a horn they acquired innocently doesn't hurt anyone if the original owner is long gone. These are just a couple instances in which I think consideration needs to be made, instead of simply citing the law and arresting the subject. Again, not arguing with you about what the law says, just stating my opinion that this should have more flexibility.
 

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If it is 0200 hours on some city street and you are found in possession of such an item, you will most likely end up in jail and the item will be seized.
Not that I remotely condone theft, but for a saxophone, this would certainly represent a rather extreme outcome and say yet more about the state of policing and law-enforcement in the US. It could be the original owner on her/his way home from just having retrieved her/his precious sax.

Assuming that police would actually investigate anything when it comes to something like a vintage saxophone, which represents a low-ticket item and inherently hard to assign value, I am curious to know what would happen if the rightful owner were to be located. Would s/he be allowed to own their instrument again after others had removed one digit from the serial number? Also, what happens if someone instead adds a digit, which might well be possible for a lesser known brand? My Bauhaus bari, which is on seemingly eternal consignment, does not even have a serial number! So if someone stamped, say No.1 on the horn, would it now be considered contraband?

For those for whom this may seem contrived, it isn't. ~10 years ago, I had a seemingly anonymous black bicycle stolen, nothing special, but I had modified it in some ways that made rather recognizable to me. It showed up on the equivalent of craigslist, where I was looking to buy a replacement. I recognized it immediately, contacted the "seller" and arranged to meet to buy. When I met the guy, I confronted him with that the bike was stolen and he admitted (!) but claimed that someone else he knew had performed the actual theft. I didn't have name or address and I certainly didn't feel comfortable sticking a camera up in his face, so we agreed that I would leave with my bike and he would just leave. Only later did it occur to me to check that the serial number was intact, which it was. However, even if it wasn't, I would have preferred to keeping my bike rather than having to start fighting with insurance companies about value, especially given the various mods. Also, I sure doubt the police would have investigated theft of a commuter bike. BTW, I did have receipt and papers for the bike.
 

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Again, not arguing with you about what the law says, just stating my opinion that this should have more flexibility.
The law itself cannot be flexible. The law is not justice.

But there is a three stage process that hopefully allows for the law to become justice.

  1. The law
  2. The policing of the law
  3. The judicial sytem, ie courts (and 3a = appeal)
I believe that anyone who wants laws to be made to fit every single circumstance (ie more pragmatic) should spnd one month as a police officer or as a forum moderator.

And it's kind of ironic that 3a is what often feeds back into the law, ie the law does get changed by real life practical situations. As long as the system works as above without corruption.
 

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And another reason why I never want to visit California. :)
I'm glad our laws are more reasonable in this regard.

We have OCGA 16-9-70 and it applies to the criminal use of such property with an altered serial number. It wouldn't apply to the OP in this case (no criminal intent). But I would recommend keeping the invoice with the horn.

Over here we're going to return the victim's property even if the serial number has been removed. And I have come accross people with recovered property that had the serial number scratched out. I questioned them about it and they we're able to explain everything away that was the end of it. Some even had copies of the incident report, property receipt and or the officers card and case number on it.
 

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Having such a law not only makes it easier to address criminal conduct, it also may discourage others from altering serial numbers in the first place.

As is the case with most laws, before they are enacted, they are thoroughly (or at least SHOULD be) vetted in the legislative process.

Every community has its underworld of burglars, thieves, and fences. I suspect that some of you who are arguing the ethics of such a law (and all of the excuses being offered as to why someone may not be guilty of criminal conduct) are projecting your own values onto an underworld you've only read about but not experienced. You see your innocent self being rolled up into a nasty situation. That's why I brought up DISCRETION as a concept when an officer finds someone with such an item. An officer is not required to make an arrest for every crime encountered (only maybe three situations in the CA penal code requires an officer to do something . . .). I was just citing the probabilities in such altered-number cases.

The simple solution here is to walk away from such items and NOT support the underworld with a myriad of excuses for keeping such an item.

As far as returning such items to the rightful owner, I recall that LAPD had a process of issuing and recording unique numbers in just such a situation. I read about it many years ago when studying for promotion, but never had a case where that process was used. I can't speak for other jurisdictions even though I was also a police chief in Montana for a few years. DAVE
 

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Discussion Starter · #49 ·
Hello everybody, unlucky guy who has this wreck in its hands here... I read all your posts and boy am I getting an education.... ;) I am following your many recommendations and I am returning this horn back to goodwill. I wrote the request for the RMA and return label yesterday only to get back today their "we are not experts and describe to the best of our ability and items are sold as-is" excuse.

Seems like they didn't yet realize that they violated the law of the land by selling this saxophone. And they are further compounding this crime by refusing to take it back, reimburse the buyer and turn the horn over to the authorities for proper handling.

so I sent them a link to the california law in violation 537e. Very good reading specifically mentions musical instruments. I attached a picture showing the area of the erasure so they can no longer can claim to “not know”. I hope this convinces them of the severity of the situation and that there is only one right way for them to deal with this situation.

again thank you all for your very valuable advices. I’ll keep you posted on how this develops.
 

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Some of the responses here are no less than nutty.

First, not everyone in the forum lives in California, so California (or similar) Law may not apply to all situations.

Second, WHERE I LIVE, the police wouldn't get involved unless a complaint/stolen item report was FIRST filed with the police. Even then, the police might not get involved at all except to provide a stolen goods report to support the claim, in which case, the matter would be litigated in court or settled out of court between the unwitting buyer and the owner. The onus is on the claimant to provide proof that he was actually the last known LEGAL owner of the item. Most of the time a simple photograph of the item showing distinguishing features of the item (such as a serial number) is sufficient. A photograph with a receipt perfects the claim.

WHERE I LIVE, the police aren't likely to get involved to the point that confiscation of the item would be a surprise to the person who unwittingly bought the alleged stolen item. That places the the police in an untenable position if the matter were to go to court. (Auto theft and firearms theft are probably covered by other procedure).

My wife works in a high end jewelry store. The store deals in antique, estate, and fine (expensive new) jewelry. Every piece of estate jewelry and any anything bought from someone who sells it to the store or puts it on consignment is logged in with a written description as well as a photograph. The written description goes to the police and the photograph and a copy of the written description stays in the store. After thirty days the jewelry store may put it up for sale if the police don't respond with a corresponding (The time period was changed recently so I don't know the exact length of time the police have to clear the item. The store usually holds the item for x days plus one or two).

Several years ago a district judge---A JUDGE!--- came to the store and saw a very expensive piece of estate jewelry and raised hell over her belief that the item belonged to her mother. She said that she would know it anywhere. The item had been processed as usual and sat in the case for two months after it cleared the police process. There was absolutely nothing that she could do. She had no proof of ownership to support her claim and the store wasn't about relinquish the item. It cost $25,000 to buy and it was on consignment for a little more than that. The owner who put it on consignment had a receipt for the original purchase but the judge wasn't shown that receipt in order to protect the original owner's privacy.

I'm recounting this story to impress upon some folks that the buyer of the saxophone isn't even required to report the instrument to any law enforcement agency. It was a private sale, not a public sale. It would be a nice thing to do but it isn't necessary, considering the fact that the sax already passed through Good Will and probably a few others' hands before the OP got it. Tracing the instrument to the original owner would be a difficult thing to do. He could call Selmer and provide a the man who keeps those records with the model number and the serial number of the instrument. If that person has info about which music store bought it, that would be the first step. Then, the present owner would have to contact the music store to find out who first purchased the instrument. In all likelihood, if the store still had a record of the sale, he probably wouldn't disclose it to protect the privacy of the original buyer. From there the legal process becomes stickier and stickier to the point that unless the instrument were a proven one-of-a-kind, NOBODY would pursue the matter.

I had an experience with something that I bought on eBay. I was contacted by someone who claimed that the instrument was his. I asked for photos or a serial number. He could provide neither. He had a hissy fit and made threats about a lawyer, police, yada yada. I ignored it all. After a month I heard nothing.

For a succinct account of what would happen if the OP returned the saxophone, read Pete Thomas' comment. That's exactly what would happen.

Keep the horn. Keep your receipt.

Or send the horn to me. I won't pay for it but I will give you absolution and you will sleep well at night.

In nomine Patris et fili et Spiritus Sancti...
(I am not a priest but I DID attend Catholic schools...)
 
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First, not everyone in the forum lives in California, so California (or similar) Law may not apply to all situations.
Very true, but the point is that law could well apply in several (many?) other jusrisdictions, hence the lack of disclosure is a serious case of "not as described". Law or no law, it reduces the value considerably.

However although the average Joe may not know of the illegality in saome places, an auction company should know the various laws about ersaed serial numbers and the implications.

Legality notwithstanding, serial number has been scrtached or sanded off and that implies at the very least some damage which should have been disclosed in the description.
 

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I seriously doubt the sax police are gonna knock on doors but as said, its value is certainly less. Itnall adds up to a loosing proposition for anyone who is not planning to buy and keep the sax for life. The karmic issue varies from person to person
 

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Blah, blah, blah.....

Moral of the story; if you get something like this, don't blab it on the web. Besides, the horn has a serial number - its just missing the one from its usual place. There are only about 100 reasons why it could have been removed without being stolen, and I like that scenario where it was stolen, the SN removed from one place, the horn was recovered by the owner and sold by the family or donated later.
 

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Blah, blah, blah.....

Moral of the story; if you get something like this, don't blab it on the web. Besides, the horn has a serial number - its just missing the one from its usual place. There are only about 100 reasons why it could have been removed without being stolen…
Such as…. The original serial number was deemed unlucky.

More?
 
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I just think it all works out if he returns it. He comes out ahead because it seems like he paid too much, especially considering the devaluation due to perceptions. He has a good reason to return it since the serial number being filed off was not disclosed prior to sale. Then he can go buy another horn in better shape without the issue for about the same price. No brainer, regardless of legalities.

He might need to be very patient with Goodwill to resolve it successfully...and find the right people to help. I had a very frustrating experience with a donation recently, and upon reflection, it may have been explained by this -- Resources for People with Disabilities - Goodwill Industries International -- patience and understanding and explaining may help.
 

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Yeah I can only think of one reason to file a serial number off of anything and that's to keep someone from positively identifying it as stolen. The "extra" serial number on the bell brace is only there because the thief was too ignorant to remove that one. Every other excuse I've ever heard has just been some bull**** made up by a shady seller for selling stolen goods.

Even in instances where serial numbers might look weird, like swapping a guitar's neck with one from another, I haven't seen people file off serial numbers.

There are a number of ways that one could come to own such an instrument without being a thief, but I'm not messing with any instrument with a filed serial unless it's been through some sort of process like Dave described where a local jurisdiction had returned the instrument to the rightful owner and issued and archived some sort of document specifying such.

As is common with most stolen goods, there are some great deals to be had if you can stomach the moral issues!

I can't, though.
 

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Discussion Starter · #59 ·
Hi there. Shop goodwill accepted the return after having referred them to the California Law even sent a return shipping label. when I called them the guy was ready to throw the whole thing in the trash but I told him to 'clear' the item with the police as there are some valuable parts like the mouthpiece, neck, and even the body for parts that could be of interest once the item is cleared in the law. This saxophone was literally dumped in the donation box outside their store. No one even came inside to drop it off.....

On my part I am now glad to return the item as it allows me to buy something similar and restore that without any 'moral issues'. I can't stomach them well and I prefer the 'law abiding citizen' side of the road. Seems to be a smoother road to happiness.

So in case someone has an old Mark VI in the $3-4000 range that has no serial number issues I would be interested. Relacquer is fine, dings, bangs, gold spray paint, or pink spray paint is fine too, needs everything, full overhaul inclusive stripping it and plating it MusicMedic style I would like to find something like that.
 

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This saxophone was literally dumped in the donation box outside their store. No one even came inside to drop it off.....
Seems reasonable. No issues there.

Thanks for the update. It’s good to hear that they respected your request.
 
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