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.