New Mexico Bans Civil Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Bans Civil Asset Forfeiture April 15, 2015

I wrote about this a few weeks ago and it is now official. The state of New Mexico has upheld the constitution by banning civil asset forfeiture unless the owner of the property is actually convicted of the crime and it is shown that the property was involved in that crime or gained through it.

Last week, New Mexico became the second state to ban the practice of civil asset forfeiture, which allows state and local law enforcement agencies to seize property from innocent people.

Gov. Susana Martinez (R) signed HB 560 on Friday, which states that property can only be seized if a person is “arrested for an offense to which forfeiture applies, the person is convicted by a criminal court of the offense, and the state establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture.” In other words, property seizure is only permitted if a person is guilty of a crime. The bill, which received unanimous approval in the state legislature, was first introduced by Rep. Zachary Cook (R).

Under civil asset forfeiture laws across the country, people don’t have to be found guilty or charged with a crime to have their property taken from them. The laws incentivize the seizure of property to the benefit of law enforcement agencies, at the expense of innocent people — who are, often, low-income people of color. No type of property is off-limits, as cash, cars, and houses are routinely seized. And in many cases, law enforcement agencies collect assets under the guise of drug enforcement.

This is what Attorney General Eric Holder should have done at the federal level a few months ago instead of the minor limitations he set on the practice. And it’s what Congress should do nationwide. It’s also what the courts should have done decades ago, but they’ve made the 4th and 5th Amendments virtually irrelevant as a check on the authority of the police.

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