New Mexico May Eliminate Civil Asset Forfeiture

The state of New Mexico has a mostly abysmal record when it comes to law enforcement and civil liberties, but the state legislature has passed a bill that would virtually eliminate the use of civil asset forfeiture to seize money and property from those who have not been convicted of any crime.

The state Senate has just passed a sweeping bill that would virtually eliminate the practice of civil asset forfeiture and on this issue leave New Mexico as the most Fifth Amendment-friendly state in the country.

The bill would basically require a criminal conviction before police can take property associated with a crime. “Civil” asset forfeiture, by definition, allows law enforcement to seize and keep property without a criminal conviction. It often puts the onus on the property owner to “prove” that he or she obtained the property legitimately, or that it wasn’t used for criminal activity.

The bill was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the conservative think tank the Rio Grande Foundation, the Drug Policy Alliance and the libertarian law firm the Institute for Justice (IJ). In an e-mail, Peter Simonson of the ACLU-NM writes, “The sponsor was the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee and the bill had strong bipartisan support throughout the legislative process, passing both chambers unanimously.”

The bipartisan nature of the bill is a very good sign. If the governor signs the bill, New Mexico would be at the forefront, one hopes, of a national movement to rein in this incredible abuse of power and neglect of the Bill of Rights.

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  • Johnny Vector

    Apparently the “police can do no wrong” law-and-order types took that left toin at Albequoiky.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Well, maybe. Alternately they got to ABQ and haven’t been seen since.

  • eric

    My optimistic side says “yay!” My cynical side expects that the police will respond with a budget estimate that shows how much additional tax revenue NM would have to raise to offset the losses, and then the state legislature will abandon ship.

  • tbp1

    I guess this reveals my somewhat naive nature, but I still find it hard to believe that these laws even exist, and that they were not declared unconstitutional decades ago. They are such blatant violations of everything the rule of law is supposed to stand for.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    What tbp1 says.

  • sugarfrosted

    The keeping part is what surprised me when I learned of this. I could understand a short limited holding period prior to trial or applying charges. And after that period it is returned if no charges were filed. Seems like this would do exactly what the law is said to be intended to do. But nope the cops directly profit from it and never have to file charges ever.

    In its current state, totally with 4

  • sabrekgb

    @4 tbp1


    I wonder, and perhaps a more legal beagle can answer, but has the constitutionality of these sorts of laws ever actually been tested? Has SCOTUS ruled on them either in general or in detail?

    In any case, civil asset forfeiture is a terrible thing, and kudos to any congresscritters for taking up the cause of reform. Let us hope it’s a good beginning.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    kudos to any congresscritters for taking up the cause of reform.

    By reform, I hope you mean “complete and utter destruction”. The only time the government should seize someone’s good’s is after a related criminal conviction (or the usual cases like taxes, legitimate eminent domain, etc.). I want a separate legal charge where the charge details the property to be seized and where the government provides evidence that the detailed property was the result of specified illegal activity. In order to seize the property, the jury must find the defendant guilty on the charge of criminal activity, and also on the charge that the property was obtained by the illegal activity of the aforementioned charge. In other words, I want it to be necessary for the jury to 1- find you guilty of a certain criminal activity, and 2- the jury also finds that the specified property was obtained as a result of that specific criminal activity (beyond a reasonable doubt). In fact, I want a United States constitutional amendment to this effect.

    And even then, I don’t know if I like the idea of seizing property like this.