Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller this week told city police officers to stop the city’s DWI vehicle seizure program. Under existing ordinance, the police department can impound vehicles after DWI arrests, but before the driver has been convicted. Keller called on the city council to permanently change the policy, but there are still pending lawsuits by people who allege the city violated state law and the U.S. Constitution by taking vehicles and then charging owners to release them. Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said city attorneys are evaluating each case individually before taking any further action. “Our legal department is doing a case-by-case review of every case, whether it’s in the initial stages, whether it was set for a hearing at the city administrative hearing level or whether it’s in the district or higher courts, to make sure that we handle all the cases consistently, fairly and transparently,” Nair told NM Political Report.
In April, the city of Albuquerque seized Arlene Harjo’s car after police charged her son for driving under the influence of alcohol. Harjo said she lent the car to her son after he asked to use it to go to the gym. Instead, he went to visit his girlfriend in Texas and was pulled over and arrested by police on his way back. To get her car back, the city told Harjo she had to pay $4,000. Plus, city law enforcement would keep a boot on her car for a year and half before she could drive it again.
Two New Mexico state Senators filed a motion in their ongoing legal battle with the City of Albuquerque regarding the city’s practice of seizing cars after DWI arrests but before convictions. The Institute for Justice filed the motion on behalf of Sens. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, and Daniel Ivey Soto, D-Albuquerque, and asked district court judge to expedite a ruling based solely on the law. “It basically says we don’t need to do any discovery,” Ivey Soto told NM Political Report on Wednesday. “So, we’re saying, ‘Judge, read the law.’”
The referenced law is one that Gov. Susana Martinez signed in 2015 with the intention of ending the practice of taking personal assets before a conviction.
Two New Mexico Senators, with the help from a national public interest law firm, announced a lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque Wednesday over the city seizing property. The suit asks the Second Judicial District Court to order the city to stop its current practice of taking ownership of property, including those accused but not convicted, of driving while intoxicated. Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque said even though Albuquerque is a home-rule city, they cannot go against state laws. He pointed out the recent law passed says there is “only” criminal forfeiture in New Mexico, making it unlawful to take property before a criminal conviction. “Last time I checked Albuquerque is geographically in the state of New Mexico,” Ivey Soto said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and The Charles Koch Institute, two groups that arguably have differing opinions on many things, appeared on the same same stage in Albuquerque on Wednesday to discuss civil asset forfeiture. New Mexico famously ended the practice of civil asset forfeiture earlier this year. Representatives from the two groups, along with a criminal defense attorney and a former director of the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture Office, discussed the importance of reforming states’ laws regarding asset forfeiture. Moderated by Paul Gessing, the director of the free market think tank Rio Grande Foundation, the panel discussed how New Mexico recently passed a law to change how and why law enforcement is allowed to take property. One particularly interesting member of the panel was Brad Cates, a former prosecutor, New Mexico lawmaker and one of the people responsible for creating a law that allowed police to seize property without a conviction or even an arrest.
The aftermath of a heinous crime that saw a career criminal kill a Rio Rancho police officer is sparking talk of tougher crime laws. Next week, state lawmakers in the interim Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee will hear testimony on a bill to add crimes to New Mexico’s existing “three strikes” law, which assigns mandatory life in prison sentences to convicts of three violent crimes. Yet the local legislative doubling down on “tough on crime” laws—two Republican state representatives are proposing changes that would tighten New Mexico’s three strikes law—comes at a time with strong national momentum in the opposite direction. And it’s Republicans with national ambitions that, in many cases, have been making headlines for this. “Former [Texas] Gov. Rick Perry is going around the country bragging that he closed three prisons,” said state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who supports criminal justice reform.
Starting today, cops in New Mexico can no longer take personal property without convicting someone, child predators will face tougher penalties and frozen powdered alcohol products are now recognized as being under state liquor control. These are just a handful of the 62 laws passed earlier this year during the regular state legislative session. Seventy-nine other new laws went into effect last month, while others with the emergency clause went into effect even earlier. The new civil asset forfeiture law is perhaps the most impactful and passed both chambers of the Legislature with wide support, netting no votes against it from either the state House of Representatives or the state Senate. Before, law enforcement officers could arrest someone and seize a personal item, such as their car, without proof that this person committed a crime.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]PAUL GESSING is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.[/box]
They say it’s better to be lucky than good. Of course, it’s even better to be lucky and good! That is exactly what happened in New Mexico during the 2015 legislative session with regard to reforming the process of civil asset forfeiture. To recap, during the 2015 legislative session, New Mexico’s deeply-divided Legislature unanimously supported significant reforms to the State’s civil asset forfeiture laws. That bill was signed by Governor Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor.
A Rio Rancho man who was collecting signatures to stop a proposed DWI seizure plan in the city abandoned the push for a simple reason: He said it was no longer necessary because of a law recently passed by the New Mexico Legislature and approved by Gov. Susana Martinez. KOAT spoke to Todd Hathorne:
“It [HB 560] does exactly what we wanted done,” Hathorne said. “It pushes the decision for seizure and forfeiture into the hands of a judge. The innocent until proven guilty standard is upheld in HB 560.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which helped spearhead the passage of the law, agrees with Hathorne. However, the city of Rio Rancho disagrees and says that their law is different.
Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law a bill to end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The signing came on the final day that she could act on bills passed this legislative session and came after a large amount of pressure to sign the bill. In New Mexico, both the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the Rio Grande Foundation supported the legislation. These two organizations are usually seen as being on the opposite side of ideological issues. The story received national attention in recent weeks including a story in the New York Times.